The notion of going on a pilgrimage and being a pilgrim is a very ancient one that belongs to the spiritual tradition of all great faiths. For Christians, centres throughout the world are recognised as places of pilgrimage.
Places of pilgrimage beckon people to touch and get caught up in the atmosphere and spiritual realities that belong to their origins. However it is not only the site that takes people deep into the heart of their faith, but the journey itself, the setting out to capture something of the spirit of the place and tradition.
A Journey made to a Sacred Place as an Act of Devotion
The making of pilgrimages has a history that spans the centuries and includes all the great religions of the world. Stories are told of groups of Christians visiting the Holy Sepulchre, Moslems journeying to Mecca, Jews weeping for joy at their first sight of Jerusalem and Buddhists planning to visit the birthplace of Buddha. The motivation of such travellers goes beyond the curiosity of the sightseer, or the interest of the historian. The pilgrim reflects on not only the significance of the places visited, but on each experience of the journey, personal and interpersonal.
The pilgrimage ‘In the footsteps of Mary MacKillop’ travels to sites relating to the life of Australia’s first saint, and the pilgrim is offered the opportunity to grow in an understanding of this Australian woman who was so deeply committed to living the Christian way of life, and to pray at her tomb.
Traditionally pilgrims have travelled in groups. In the days when travel was limited to foot or horseback such long journeys were open to the risk of mistaking the road and becoming lost, or being attacked by robbers or falling ill.
The presence of fellow travellers was a safeguard as well as a support when the journey became difficult. It was their companionship that offered the encouragement to continue in a spirit of faith, and the joys and limitations of living and travelling with persons from different backgrounds, mannerisms and viewpoints became an integral part of the experience of pilgrimage.
With the passage of time, the method of travel may have changed, but the combination of visiting sacred sites in the company of fellow travellers is still part of a pilgrimage. On such a journey strangers become friends through the sharing of food and common experiences. They pray together and for one another and share insights into the personal life of Mary MacKillop.
While we may not all be as good and holy as Mary, if we can take even the smallest part of her with us in our hearts and in our minds, then we may well gain a whole new outlook on the way we would like to lead our lives.
Lesley O’Brien, 1994
Why did you come on this pilgrimage? Pilgrims set out on the journey for many different reasons. Some seek understanding and knowledge, others want to ask for forgiveness and healing or to give thanks for blessings received. Some are seeking a deeper faith and wish to experience a sense of unity with those who seem more sure of their beliefs.
Whatever your reason, be prepared to recognise God’s personal gift and receive it with gratitude.