Have We Valued the Practice of Pilgrimage?

by Mark Votava


My experiences of traveling to new places to understand other parts of North America or the world have been profound for me.  I remember visiting the third world country of Romania and seeing the poverty of their suffering.  This redefined the word poverty for me here in the United States.  I now see poverty differently then what I used to know and understand about it.

The people there inspired me to love the poor.  They inspired me to live with greater simplicity.  I learned from them the importance of living interdependently toward one another.

This pilgrimage shaped me tremendously as it has been some fifteen years since I went there.  I have learned from this experience to foster a different way of life in the parish of Downtown Tacoma where I have lived for the past ten years.  I am practicing a way of life that cares for the poor, which values simplicity and interdependence in community.

  •  Seeing through new paradigms  

Pilgrimages help us to listen in new ways.  Pilgrimages help us to awaken to culture.  Pilgrimages help us to see through new paradigms in the parish.  Pilgrimages help us to become human.

  •  Pilgrimages can awaken us to reality

Pilgrimages help us to experience the parish imagination as rooted and linked.  Pilgrimages can be frightening.  Pilgrimages can shake us out of the status quo.  Pilgrimages can awaken us to reality.

  •  The mysterious process of awakening

Co-founder of The Gravity Center, Phileena Heuertz says, “Embarking on pilgrimage mirrors the initiation of awakening…”  We start a mysterious process of awakening that we never thought possible when we learn from other contexts.  When we see the on-the-ground stories with our own eyes and meet the real flesh and blood people that brought these stories to life, we are inspired beyond what we could have imagined.  This gives life to our local context when we come back home in new ways.

  •  Encouraged by the stories of practitioners from other contexts

Learning from another context gives life to our local context.  The parish imagination needs regular periods of inspiration from other local contexts around the country and around the world.  The parish imagination is encouraged by the stories of practitioners from other local contexts.  We gain so much wisdom and inspiration from these stories and experiences.

  •    Cultivating the dreams within us

God speaks to us through other local contexts.  God uses the stories, experiences and struggles of other places to encourage the parish imagination within our local context.  We learn immensely when we embark on pilgrimage to other contexts.  This practice cultivates the dreams within us for our parish.

  •  Opening us to new possibilities

This practice opens us to new possibilities.  Stories are so powerful from other contexts.  We need to hold these stories within us as we seek to integrate and collaborate within our parish.  This will build some sustainability and stability within the parish imagination among us.

How can we practice pilgrimage and learn from other contexts?