“Pilgrim” comes from the Latin peregrinum, which means “wanderer” It’s a voyage to honor God. Christian pilgrimage is ancient. Once the temple was erected in Jerusalem (ca. 957 B.C. ), all Jewish men were required to attend it for the three major feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavu’ot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, or Festival of Ingathering), per God’s command in Deuteronomy 16:16-17. On the walk to the Temple, they sang “pilgrim hymns,” Psalms 119-133. Jews still call these feasts “Pilgrimage Festivals” Pagans also perform the pilgrimage. When they worshipped local gods, as in ancient Greece and Rome, pre-Columbian Central and South America, certain portions of old Europe, and the ancient Middle East (Palestine, Syria, and Israel), followers would journey to the god’s shrine to beg for favors, forgiveness, or other religious motives.
The Focus of the Christian Pilgrimage
Our focus is Christian pilgrimage. After the death and resurrection of the Incarnate God and the development of Christianity, Christians yearned to follow in the footsteps of their Savior, His Holy Mother, and His Apostles. Even when millions of Christians were killed for their Faith, the faithful visited the tombs of favored saints, sometimes at the risk of being martyred themselves. Their motivations? They were similar to the pagans, but they knew that they glorified God Himself by honoring God’s saints. Some pilgrimages were made in penance for sin, petitioning for a special blessing, and out of devotion.
As expected, a Christian’s most incredible journey was to the Holy Land. Far from Christian Europe, the trek was intimidating. First, it took years. It was expensive and risky. The highways were full of robbers and killers, and there were brutal deserts to cross. Many pilgrims were hurt or killed. When the traveler returned home, he knew he’d received numerous graces. As penance for sin, religious beliefs require pilgrimages. The sinner had to trek barefoot and in tatters, never staying more than one night in one area, and beg for food along the way. This was no fancy journey to Rome or Jerusalem with air-conditioned accommodations and local food. It was a huge sacrifice that looked terrible in our eyes.
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