Be a pilgrim rather than a tourist?
The following is a portion of what I shared with my fellow peregrinos last fall while staying at the historical Mission St Anthony de Padua Retreat Center in Jolon, California as we walked another leg of the CA Mission Walk.
I must share before I start, I've been traveling as a pilgrim for several years now and I approach every one of our walks with intention. When I signed up last year for my first walk with this group, I asked if a priest would be part of the group because I had visions of daily Mass along the way. While no priest has joined on the walks I've been a part of, I am happy to say that I generally find a way to go to Mass multiple times and have managed to spend some time in several Mission adoration chapels along the way.
Having shared my approach to our Mission walk, I also want to relate what led me to this group. Several years ago, a dear friend and sister in Christ, I call her my spiritual weightlifter, casually asked me at supper if I wanted to go to Fatima, Portugal with her parish group. My knee-jerk response was "No. Thank you for the invite but we can't afford a trip to Europe." She smiled and said, "Think about it." That night I told my husband about the invitation and to my surprise, he said, "You should go."
Five months later, I found myself on a bonafide pilgrimage with some of the holiest people I've ever met. I had absolutely no idea what I'd gotten myself into. Don't get me wrong, I loved it but I was completely unprepared. Unprepared for the amount of walking, hiking, climbing, and praying I would be doing that week. When I opened my heart to the invitation and said "yes", I honestly had no expectations except that I was going to get to see a lot of really old Catholic churches. I was a total tourist when I left home. Turned out, we did get to visit Jesus in the tabernacle of a lot of beautiful churches but it was so much more.
We walked beautifully maintained and level trails around Fatima for 3 days, visiting the holy spaces where the angel and Mary visited the 3 child visionaries. Even praying the rosary at night with people from around the world, in multiple languages, on the 100 anniversary of the apparitions.
As if that wasn't enough, we loaded a bus, took an airplane, loaded another bus and I found myself in Međugorje, a town in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When my dear friend told me this was to be our 2nd pilgrimage site, I just trusted her, not bothering to really research where it was and why it was significant. I was blissfully unaware of the life-altering experiences the trip would present.
I also had no idea this trip would light a fire inside me for pilgrimage and for hiking.
On that trip, I learned a lot of great lessons. First, ask more questions when someone invites you on a pilgrimage. Second, get better hiking/walking gear. Third, it's going to get hard, even painful. Turn to God and he will get you through it.
I also learned there is a lot of fun in being a tourist, seeing new sites, trying local food, and taking lots of selfies. But, it is empty. Moving from place to place, seeking the next thrill as soon as the last one is over, never satisfies.
Being a pilgrim, on the other hand, can bring such a sense of peace and satisfaction. There is a deeper sense of fulfillment when travel is approached with a pilgrim's heart. When you recognize you are embarking on an adventure to find God, everything changes, taking on new depth and meaning.
The travel moves from a superficial fixation on what makes me happy at the moment toward a self-giving and emptying out of myself for God.
I got up before dawn to hike to the top of Apparition Hill to watch the sunrise. In and of itself, the sunrise is a thing of beauty. When viewed through the lens of a pilgrim, it is amplified. It becomes more than hues of blue and pink. It becomes evidence of the creator's hands, brush strokes of color and light, and the recognition He made this for all His creatures to enjoy.
It becomes the renewal of life as birdsong rings out, flowers open to welcome warmth, human life starts to stir, and light chases away the darkness. For the pilgrim, dawn moves from nature to creation while watching those brush strokes painted across the sky.
It took 3 days of hiking and climbing over boulders up and back down Cross Mountain, up and back down Apparition Hill multiple times, to help me understand that I should be more purposeful with my travels, with my time, and with my hiking.
I should travel with the intent of a pilgrim, seeking God, to get closer as His creature within His creation. It is then that I find peace and satisfaction in the journey and in my destination.
Be a pilgrim, not a tourist.
The first picture is of Mission San Antonio de Padua. The remaining pictures are from my pilgrimage to Fatima and Međugorje.