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Why Pilgrimage? – Fr. Tom O’Donnell SAC

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Life is a pilgrimage.

Fr. Tom O'Donnell sacPilgrimage is an important part of spiritual life for Christians. Christians see life as a journey, coming from God and returning to God. The pilgrim seeks to separate himself from the everyday concerns of the world, and to spend time in the presence of God as he travels to a place of special meaning.

In Argentina we have over 12 places of pilgrimage (mostly all dedicated to The Blessed Virgin Mary). For the past 36 years, on the first Saturday of October over one million youth make their annual pilgrimage by foot to our national shrine  in honor of Our Lady of Lujan. It is amazing that so many young people respond so generously to this invitation to visit Lujan. Pope John Paul 11 had challenged young people to join him on a particular pilgrimage to different parts of the world every two years.

The monastery of Taize (France) offers a pilgrimage of simplicity and prayer which  thousands  of young people make every year, sacrificing much to come to meet other young people from different denominations around the world. World youth days, Knock, Walsingham (UK), Rome, Medjugorje, Nnamugongo (Africa), Lujan (Argentina) and many other local pilgrimages demonstrate that young people are captivated by these pilgrimages which somehow help them in a dramatic way at a particular time on their faith journey.

Whatever the initial motivation to make these journeys, it cannot be underestimated what a profound effect they have on them. It has not been uncommon for young people on a youth pilgrimage to make life choices or to be gently nudged by The Holy Spirit in a particular direction. It is clearly shown in the life of Jesus how important pilgrimage is.

Jesus made pilgrimage when he was growing up and the climax of salvation happened whilst on pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit came with great power on the apostles whilst people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem for the pilgrimage at Pentecost.

In the fourth century Christians rediscovered pilgrimage as part of their heritage. Prior to this there was a move away from jewish practices. Basilicas were built in Jerusalem on key places associated with Jesus. These quickly became centers of pilgrimage. Martyrs´ tombs also became places which Christians would make a prayerful journey to. The golden era of pilgrimage was, unsurprisingly, the middle ages, Rome. Cologne, Santiago de Compostela (Spain),Canterbury and Walsingham are but a few of the places which were not only key places of pilgrimage, but also cultural and economic centers. During the reformation many pilgrimage centers were destroyed, yet the idea of pilgrimage remained strong in the minds of many Christians.

In the 1800`s to this day pilgrimage had a massive revival. There is no doubt that somehow Christians need these times to take stock, to be with other like-minded people and to draw closer to God.

A pilgrim wanders through life, often limping, sometimes bewildered, at times quite lost; and the pilgrim is searching, often quite unconsciously, for something or someone to make sense of life, and certainly to make sense of death. He or she may discover that God has spoken in many ways but most emphatically through a Son, whom to see is to have seen The Father Himself.

In Argentina preparations are well underway for the 2010 youth pilgrimage to Lujan on Oct.2nd. This year it will coincide with the celebrations for the 200 years of independence of Argentina from Spain. The organizers are expecting 2 million young people who will walk the 68.8 klms from Buenos Aires to the Shrine of “Our Lady”. The motto for 2010 is “Mother Mary” –“We want a nation where everyone in included” In 2009 over 8 million pilgrims visited “The shrine. 14.340 and 283 weddings were officiated  during the year.

An authentic pilgrimage means the pilgrimage begins many months before the day of departure. The time of preparation is all part of of our journey.

Preparation helps us to focus on our theme for the year. It helps us ask the questions “why am I going (again)? and helps to see our need for spiritual renewal, to thank God for something, to offer something back and to seek real forgiveness. The youth pilgrimage is tiring and demanding on many levels and yet it should help us to be active Catholics, more apostolic in our everyday life and more willing to serve the needs of the people we make the journey with.

We all like to go on a pilgrimage and we should be aware that it’s a unique opportunity for us to experience real Community, service that does not count the hours or days and prayer which comes from what is deepest inside us. The way is ofen rough for a pilgrim and hard going but pilgrims must keep going resolutely and courageously.

We are lost if we stop looking for the right way to reach our destination. But there is ONE who is on the look-out to guide us; it is the Son of God who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Through Him we derive the inspiration and the strength to keep going on our pilgrim way.

Our Lady of Lujan pray for us!!!

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