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Why I Go on Pilgrimage (and Why You Should, Too!)

September 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Diana von Glahn, Pilgrimage

For me, pilgrimage has always meant coming home to a place where I am loved. You know that feeling of security you get with family, knowing that even though they know all your crazy quirks, they love you anyway? That’s pilgrimage. Finding refuge in a chapel, away from life’s insecurities. Seeking understanding and familiarity in a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language. Resting in a haven of peace and tranquility in the midst of a busy city. I go on pilgrimage because, in the midst of my life’s pilgrimage, I need reassurance, I need reminders that no matter what, God is with me and He loves me more than I love myself. No matter where I am, in a Catholic church, I am home and I am welcome. That sustains me.

There are many reasons why I go on pilgrimage–to learn, to give thanks, to petition, to remember, to honor. Early Christians made valiant treks to the Holy Land to visit the places of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. for post on pilgrimageHaving made the trip myself recently, I recommend it wholeheartedly! Chaucer's Canterbury Tales recounts the journeys of 14th-century pilgrims traveling to England’s Canterbury Cathedral, where St. Thomas Becket was cruelly martyred. (I saw that, too!) Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which dates to the 9th century, was one of three pilgrimages that provided pilgrims with a plenary indulgence. The other two were the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Today, pilgrims flock to these locations and many others, including the sites of apparitions of Jesus and Mary, such as Lourdes, France, Knock, Ireland, Akita, Japan, or Kibeho, Rwanda. Penitent pilgrims trek barefoot up Ireland’s Skellig Michael or on their knees to Fatima, Portugal. Curious pilgrims visit the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on St. Juan Diego’s tilma in Mexico City, the incorrupt bodies of Saints John Vianney, Bernadette Soubirous and Catherine Labouré, or the Eucharistic miracles in Siena and Lanciano, Italy, or Seefeld, Austria. Many, like me, love to soak up the ambient holiness in cities where saints once lived, like St. Teresa’s Avila, Padre Pio’s Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, and St. Francis’ and St. Clare’s Assisi.

A pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily require expensive and time-consuming trips overseas. In the first season of The Faithful Traveler, my husband and I visited some amazing places of pilgrimage, all within a few hours’ drive of our home. We visited Emmitsburg’s National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, where the first American saint once lived; Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which has windows that rival those of Chartres Cathedral in France; and the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, where Catholics stood their ground in the face of discrimination in the early days of our country. Closer to home, we are blessed with five amazing shrines–the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, the Miraculous Medal Shrine, the National Shrine of St. Katherine Drexel [April 2017 editor's update: because of the dwindling number of sisters, the shrine is set to close at the end of 2017 and Katherine's remains moved to Philadelphia], the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and the National Shrine of St. John Neumann–two of which house the remains of saints!

Pilgrimages begin long before we leave home, as we prepare physically and spiritually. That’s one of the reasons why we created The Faithful Traveler, to show pilgrims what they would see at the shrines we visit and why it should mean something to them. We might start a walking regimen before going to the Holy Land or the Camino de Santiago, read a book written by the saint whose city we’re going to visit, or pray a 54-Day Rosary Novena, asking for a fruitful pilgrimage that helps us grow in holiness. Many pilgrims make a sacrifice of their journey, by walking great lengths to their destination or by living an ascetic lifestyle during the trip, offering up luxurious hotel rooms and sumptuous meals in exchange for sparse lodging and light fare.

Once we arrive, the possibilities for spiritual and intellectual growth are endless. One of my favorite things to do on pilgrimage is admire and photograph the art, whether it be stained glass windows, statues, paintings, mosaics, or Stations of the Cross. I like to see beautiful things devoted to God because they remind me that He gave us the materials we use to honor Him, He gave us the ability to use those tools to make beautiful things, and He gave us hearts full of love that make us want to honor Him.

Once the art sends my mind and heart to reeling up to God, I get down to business and visit with my Heavenly relatives. I thank God for all of His gifts and I offer Him whatever weighs on my heart. I pray to the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph, her wonderful spouse, and to any saints whose statues I come across. Shrines are also a great place to learn about the lives of saints and to let their example show you new ways to deal with life’s dilemmas. They motivate me, inspire me, and help shoulder my cross a little better. And at the end of the day, all of this does the one thing that matters the most: it brings me closer to God here on earth so that I might, someday, be closer to Him in Heaven. It’s like Continuing Ed for those of us who want our St. degree.

While I can't presume to know what God thinks of all of this, I’ll bet He likes it. Just like any other relationship in our lives, God wants us to talk to Him (prayer), to be intimate with Him (communion), to be friends with Him, and to love Him. A pilgrimage is a wonderful way to continue, or even begin, our relationship with God.

I am thrilled to be able to share my experiences of pilgrimage with you–be they places I’ve been or places I dream of visiting–through this website. And I hope that my faithful travels will inspire your own.


Art: Diana von Glahn in the Holy Land photograph used with permission. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe holy card image; Some European pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela, Oula Lehtinen, own photograph, 11.06.2005, CCA-SA; Wikimedia Commons.

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About Diana von Glahn

Diana is the co-producer (along with husband, David), writer, editor, and host of The Faithful Traveler, a series on EWTN, which explores the art, architecture, history and doctrine behind Catholic churches, shrines and places of pilgrimage throughout the world. She is also the author of "The Mini Book of Saints". She blogs, posts updates to Facebook, uploads videos and photos to her website, and sells DVDs of both seasons of The Faithful Traveler.

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  • Camila

    Neat! I can feel the energy right through your post Diana! What a blessing to travel to all these special places. You know how so many people say they love to travel? Simply for the sake of checking the world out – well what I absolutely enjoyed about your post was how you refocus the idea of “travelmania” into something that lifts us out of our own daily lives and into the many worlds and into the history of our Faith – saints, apparitions, apostles, Jesus. So neat! I look forward to your posts – take us on this journey please!

  • patricia

    This post is very informative and inspiring.

  • Jeanette

    Thank you Diana. I liked that you gave us links to explore especially the vimeo on the Holyland. In that vimeo, your passion, excitement and wonderful faith show through and it actually brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my trip to the Holyland along with you. Looking forward to all your posts. God bless you!

    • Aw, thanks, Jeanette!

      • Gerry

        My wife has been voicing out her desire to go the Holy Land. I was hoping to bring her next year towards our 30th anniversary (also my 55th birthday). But I have been jobless since April. We lost our money in an investment scam (shockingly by a very close friend). We already used up our some savings. I still pray that God sends me and wife to a pligrimmage.

        • That’s horrible, Gerry! I’m sorry to hear that. Just pray. If it’s God’s will, it will happen. If not, pray that He helps you to understand why. And don’t forget that Jesus is close to us every single day in the Blessed Sacrament. All we have to do to be within touching distance of Him is to go to our closest Catholic Church and there He is, in the Tabernacle! I think that is the most important pilgrimage of all.

          • Gerry

            Wow, I did not expect you to respond that quick. That was comforting. On the hind sight, it’s been a struggle to purification (if I may put it that way). Yes, the Blessed Sacrament has been my pillow all this time (especially when doze off at meditation :-). He drew me closer to His heart, supplied me the grace to embrace many uncontrollable and unexplainable things. I asked for signs whether it is time for me to change career (from 16 years as software QA analyst). It seemed necessary for God to delay His answer (6 months) so that I may first be spiritually ready. I believe God just gave me the signs through my daughter who suggested that I use my computer skills to help churches, small groups to promote their events. Just yesterday another friend after listening to my journey also said the same thing. Could you please pray for me? Really pray for me. I asked the Lord to give me another definitive sign from His Word. I will pray for your ministry. Thank you and God bless!

          • LOL. I’m procrastinating. Of course I will pray for you, but will you pray for me, too? I think we’re all, in some way, trying to figure out what God wants of us, especially when things seem the bleakest. Just don’t stop praying, whatever you do. He doesn’t always answer us right away (HE doesn’t procrastinate! LOL), and sometimes it takes us a long time to even realize He has answered us. But the best thing we can do is just try to stay as close to Him as we can. He’ll show you what He wants when He thinks you’re ready to get it.

            And in the meantime, you can go on virtual pilgrimages with us!

            Don’t lose heart. 🙂

          • Gerry

            You read my mind I just viewed your vimeo. All the more I wanted the pilgrimage. Lord I want it now -lol Anyways, for sure my prayers for you and David. God bless you both! Have a blessed day (whatever your time is now)

  • You are so blessed to have been able to go to all those wonderful holy places! I don’t know when I could go abroad to visit those pilgrimage sites. I really wish I could go on a pilgrimage! Especially the Holy Land! Looking forward to learning more about all these places! Lately, I realized that there are also lots of great pilgrimage sites here in the Philippines. Like Our Lady of Lipa where Mama Mary had apparitions, old stone churches in Bohol, Ilocos and Intramuros etc. Sorry maybe I’m advertising a bit here…but I do hope others could go on a pilgrimage to these beautiful places here too!

    • Jeanette

      We had a priest from the Philippines for 7 years and he always used to address Mary as Mama Mary…I loved that! And you say it too! It is an endearing name for our dear Mother.

      • Thank you! Everyone here calls her Mama Mary. It’s part of our culture. We have a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother. In fact praying the Rosary lead to a peaceful revolution and the fall of a corrupt dictatorship back in the 1980s. 🙂

    • I haven’t been blessed to visit all of the places I mentioned above, but I have been able to go to a few. I just like to visit them, even if it’s in my reading 🙂 I can only imagine how wonderful the Philippines must be, since its people are so wonderfully faithful! I’ll have to check it out! Thanks! And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of the beautiful shrines in your country!

      • Thank you for your kind words! 🙂 It would be great if you could visit us here!

  • Yule

    wow… I really want to go to those places…

  • DianeVa

    Ahhh. You said it perfectly; “Continuing Ed for those who want our Sts degree!”
    That’s me. Count me in! I truly desire to become a saint and I will look forward to reading your contributions Diana as I do all the others on this blessed website. Thank you all brothers and sisters in Christ who travel the bumpy road toward sainthood with me.

  • Gerry

    Thank you Lord for the internet. I see people’s comments and they are so comforting. It also opens my eyes to see a bigger world than mine. I am humbled by your faith and spiritual maturity. God bless!

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