Why Make a Holy Year Door Pilgrimage?
As the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn makes its spiritual journey to Jubilee 2000, every Maronite is being asked to make a pilgrimage to one of the five Eparchial Designated Churches. These churches are Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY; Our Lady of Victory in Pittsburgh, PA; St. Anthony in Lawrence, MA; St. Anthony in Glen Allen, VA; and Our Lady of Lebanon in Miami, FL for a Holy Year Door visit.
Bishop Stephen Hector has designated these churches as a “symbol” of our faith, unity and love with the Holy Father at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and our Patriarch in Bkerke, Lebanon.
A pilgrimage has three distinct aspects.
The word comes from the Latin word peregrinum which means a stranger or traveler from foreign parts. A pilgrimage (usually done on foot) meant hardship from the efforts made to get to the destination. In these contemporary times with a major infrastructure of highways, comfortable cars and plenty of fast food dinners on the way, the notion of hardship is not connected with the journey. However, the idea of something being inconvenient and requiring some sacrifice may parallel the original reason for a pilgrimage.
Seeds of Change
Pilgrimage has to be more than a curiosity, an adventure or a vacation. This spiritual journey calls the peregrine (or stranger) to spiritual transformation, healing and renewal. Here there is a relationship between God of the life-journey and the sojourner. In other words, each person who makes the pilgrimage is expected to experience changes in his/her attitudes and behaviors toward daily life, the Church and the world.
Pilgrimages are essentially “spiritual” trips. A pilgrim may travel to a holy place as an act of atonement or devotion, thanksgiving or veneration. The pilgrim may come seeking wisdom, blessings from God, or even divinization. At the same time, the person making the trip may be seeking something less ethereal, such as physical healing, a material favor or inspiration.
Victor Turner in Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture wrote: ” Some form of deliberate travel to a far place intimately associated with the deepest, most cherished values of the traveler seems to be a ‘cultural universal’.” Muslims make their required hajj to Mecca; Catholics trek to Rome or Harrisa; Hindus come to Varanasi to bathe in the holy Ganges; Buddhists travel to Deer Park in India; and Jews stream to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Whether a pilgrim is religious or not, the spiritual element of the journey must be foremost. It is the single defining characteristic of the trek. For that reason, sailing in the Caribbean, white-water rafting down the Colorado, or basking on the sandy beaches of Hawaii is not a pilgrimage.
Pilgrimages most often involve homage worship and prayer to someone who has deeply touched one’s spirit and nourished one’s passions.”Pilgrimages”, says the Encyclopedia Americana, “are based on the belief that a deity or a saint can best be approached in a locality with which he was physically associated.” So we make journeys to the birthplaces, homes, and graves of the people to whom we find ourselves spiritually linked. Consider that 700,000 fans flock to Graceland each year to visit where Elvis Presley once lived. Millions journey to the Holy Land each year to walk where Jesus once walked. But these jaunts are not the same. The spiritual longing to be where a “holy” one once walked is as old as human history.
Nearly 6,000 years ago Abraham traveled with his tribes and flocks on a holy journey in search of a land. According to a 4,600-year-old Mesopotamian legend, Gilgamesh wanted to learn how to escape death and made a pilgrimage in search of Utnapishtim, who had survived the great Babylonian flood. Nearly 3,000 years ago, the Assyrian king Shamaneser III undertook a pilgrimage to temples in Babylon. Pilgrims in ancient Greece flocked to the temple of Zeus during the Olympic games.
Almost from the beginning of Christianity, believers found their way to Jerusalem. Bishop Alexander of Cappadocia left a written record of his pilgrimage in 217 to Jerusalem. St. Helena made a celebrated trip to Palestine in 326 during which she found the Holy Sepulcher and the True Cross.
By the Middle Ages, Christians could be found in droves on the way to Rome to visit the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul. One of the characteristics of Christian pilgrimages was hospitality which found gracious expression in the monasteries and convents along the major routes.
Today, more than 500 years later, pilgrims represent an important economic phenomenon and a chance for cross-pollination. They also present an opportunity for spiritually famished men and women to travel afar to nourish their spirits, refresh their minds, heal their bodies, and thereby, perhaps, earn a foothold in the kingdom.
So, why make a pilgrimage to a designated Church of Saint Maron Eparchy? To enjoy the hospitality of the welcomers, to awaken to the divine presence in our midst, to be reborn in faith, to seek the compassion of our forgiving Lord, and to celebrate the love of God in our world.
Let us then be on our way to make a pilgrimage to a sister Church.