Pilgrimage in the Year of MercyJanuary 6th, 2016
A pilgrimage is both a journey with a set goal and a mystery of openness to the Spirit. Whether pilgrims have a set route or not, embarking on the journey is exploring the mystery of God in places, historical events, and the presence of God within one’s own being. In this wonderful Jubilee Year, the journey is one seeking mercy and of being open to accepting and then giving mercy. It is therefore significant that throughout the Year of Mercy, designated pilgrimage sites are ready to open their Holy Doors of Mercy for all pilgrims. Pope Francis invites each of us to consider where we are in our own life’s pilgrimage, and to physically travel to a place of pilgrimage and enter those Doors of Mercy, contemplating the Mercy of the Father in our lives.
Pilgrimage is intentional. We set out to connect with a holy place, with holy people, with a holy event. The context is prayer and openness. Setting out on the journey is the first step in being open to the Mercy of the Father, and of reflecting on where and how Mercy is prevalent in our lives. Entering the Doors of Mercy at a pilgrimage site is entering the welcoming arms of the Father – and of the Church – as we enter through prayer and contemplation the forgiveness and welcome of the Father, as did the Prodigal Son. The pilgrim is entering a safe haven of mercy, where forgiveness and witness to mercy permeate the entire environment.
Our Christian heritage is rooted in such pilgrimages, often with openness to the Spirit, but with unknown final destination or consequences: Abraham and Sarah journey to a foreign land, Moses traipsing through the desert for forty years, Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth only to proclaim “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” and numerous Christian pilgrims for centuries visiting sacred spaces in order to connect both physically and spiritually with saints, sacred events, and above all, holiness. Pope Francis has encouraged every Catholic to make a pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has seven pilgrimage sites for the Year of Mercy. Check the archdiocesan website for events at each of these sites. “May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us” (Misericordiae Vultus).
Anne McGuire is Director of Programs at Maria Stein Shrine of Holy Relics.