You can come on pilgrimage for your own intentions as all pilgrims do, but I want you to know that you also come here for us – we who are the Mother Church. We need you to come; we need to see your faith; we need your prayers. We also need for you to know the struggles we are faced with in this Holy Land as we try to maintain a Christian presence here in the land sanctified by Our Lord. We also depend on pilgrims to sustain our economy.

What Is A Pilgrimage?

by Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox

Pilgrimages are important to the Body of Christ, the Church. However, it was not until after a conversion experience in the Holy Land that the purpose and need for pilgrimages became clear. Mary Jane was given an opportunity to travel to a destination of her choice when she was given 2 round-trip tickets by her employer at the time – a large travel agency. We chose the Holy Land as our destination. Without any study or knowledge, outside of knowing it was where Christ was born, lived, and died, we experienced a two-week visit to Jerusalem and the Galilee area that would change our lives forever. Since then, we have traveled to the Holy Land over 40 times.

We discovered after numerous visits how a pilgrimage can affect a person in ways you would never plan or expect. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land can affect a person’s spirit, intellect, and psychology. One is forced to go beyond one’s comfort zone. The challenge on the body and the intake of facts and knowledge of the Holy Sites are enough in themselves; however, so much more is offered. Fraternal charity is also learned on pilgrimage. Traveling in a group as small as 12 to 40 can “test” one’s patience and charity. Having experienced the many challenges, sights, sounds, and spiritual realities on pilgrimage, hearts are changed.

When someone first thinks of a pilgrimage, it may be because they are seeking something for themselves. However, they will discover that a true pilgrimage is much more than that. It is an experience of the grace of God that no only affects our relationship with Him, but also all of our other relationships, and it builds up the Body of Christ.

In a private audience with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, he told our pilgrimage group, “You can come on pilgrimage for your own intentions as all pilgrims do, but I want you to know that you also come here for us – we who are the Mother Church. We need you to come; we need to see your faith; we need your prayers. We also need for you to know the struggles we are faced with in this Holy Land as we try to maintain a Christian presence here in the land sanctified by Our Lord. We also depend on pilgrims to sustain our economy.” The majority of Christians living in the Holy Land depend on pilgrims for their livelihood.

It is a mystery why the Holy Land has been a place of such unrest, but the one thing that could bring the greatest stability to the region is for thousands of pilgrims to visit the Holy Land; to pray and to support the economy by purchasing the services and products provided by the local people.

When we were at the Vatican Post Office a few years ago, we met a man by chance who worked in the Vatican’s office dedicated to pilgrimages. He said there was a real concern that the authentic Christian pilgrimage experience was being replaced by religious tours where the people only visit the Holy Sites, take pictures, receive a brief explanation and then move on – they, themselves not being changed by the experience.

An authentic pilgrimage is primarily an experience of faith in which we have an opportunity through prayer and contemplation to experience the grace of God in places he has sanctified by His presence. It is also an educational experience in which we meet the local people and learn how their lives are changed by the significance of the holy places. An authentic pilgrimage will leave a deep impression on our mind and soul and have a profound effect upon our personal lives, our relationship with God and with others. It will help to build up the Body of Christ, which is the Church. An authentic pilgrimage is one of the best investments we can make because it has such wonderful consequences for the present and for eternity.