Pilgrimage: Sign of Christian hope Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Abbot Marcel Rooney, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “A pilgrimage may be described as a journey to a sacred shrine or sanctuary for a religious motive.”

People have been making such special journeys for centuries. A pilgrimage expresses one’s faith -- for a person believes that God is present in a special way at a particular shrine, because of the holy person(s) who lived or died there, and because of the holy things that happened in history there.

A pilgrimage expresses one’s hope -- for it reinforces our trust that God welcomes all who come to Him with an open heart; indeed, a pilgrimage to a sacred place on earth is ultimately a symbol for the pilgrimage we are all in the process of making from earth to heaven.

Finally, it may be added: a pilgrimage expresses one’s charity -- since every journey of this kind always tests one’s love, both for God and for the neighbor, who is both the fellow pilgrim and the local inhabitants of the place visited.

History of pilgrimages

Pilgrimages are found in the Bible -- most notably the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great feasts, as well as to other special shrines throughout Israel.

Christians quickly picked up the tradition from our Jewish forbearers. Naturally, since the Holy Land was made holy by the presence of Jesus, Mary, and the apostles, it was a favorite place of pilgrimage from earliest Christian history.

In the Western Roman Catholic Church, Rome itself soon became a place of pilgrimage: it was the city where Saints Peter and Paul had lived and had shed their blood in martyrdom.

The places of their burials had great churches built over them; to visit such churches and pray in them was to renew the faith which Jesus had entrusted to and which one had received from these great apostles.

In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII called the first Holy Year, in imitation of the ancient Hebrew Jubilee Year (cf. Levit 25:8ff). The poet Dante joined those going to Rome that year, and described the crowds which filled the city. (Inferno, Canto XVIII: “l’anno del giubileo”: “on account of the great throng in the year of the Jubilee, the Romans took measures for the people to pass over the bridge . . . which faced towards the Castle (Sant’Angelo) and went to Saint Peter’s . . .” (John Sinclair, transla.).

In addition to the great basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, other churches were added to the list of places to visit during a pilgrimage to Rome.

By the time of St. Pius V (1566-1572), the number had grown to seven churches to visit. In his papal pronouncement (Egregia populi Romani), he spoke of them thus: “These basilicas are celebrated for their antiquity, their religious services, the relics of the martyrs venerated within, the indulgences gained and, finally, for the mystical significance of the number seven” (cited from Joseph Tylenda, The Pilgrim’s Guide to Rome’s Principal Churches, viii.).

These basilicas were added to the list of pilgrimage destination: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, St. Sebastian, and Holy Cross.

Year of Mercy

Given this long history and the spiritual importance of pilgrimage, we can understand why Pope Francis has called a new and special Holy Year for 2016, designating it as a “Year of Mercy” (from December 8, 2015, until November 20, 2016).

By calling such a Holy Year, he has invited Catholics from the entire world to come to Rome, to celebrate and renew our faith, our hope, and our charity, and above all, that we be renewed in the spirit of Jesus, whose heart was filled with divine mercy.

It is that mercy of God which brought Him to earth in the incarnation; which animated His proclamation of the Kingdom of God throughout His life; and which sustained Him in His death on the cross for the salvation of the world.

It is that same mercy which He proclaimed to His disciples after His resurrection. And it is that same mercy which has been extended to all the Church throughout history by the grace of the Holy Spirit, above all in the sacraments.

Pilgrimage to Rome

In response to the Holy Father’s call, the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art will sponsor a pilgrimage to Rome during the upcoming Holy Year. It will be arranged by Burkhalter Travel of Madison, with Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, as the primary guide to the holy places.

Important in the tradition of Holy Year pilgrimages is passing through the Holy Doors of the four great basilicas of Rome (which are usually sealed but are open only during this year).

If one is properly disposed (freedom from serious sin, Confession and Communion, special prayer at the holy places), the Church in its mercy offers a plenary indulgence, a remission before God of the temporary punishment for sin, the guilt of which is already forgiven (Cf. Can. 997).

The Orate Institute, in this pilgrimage, wants to highlight the mercy of God as received in the Church through the seven sacraments.

• As an example, the pilgrims will visit the baptistry of St. John Lateran (in addition to passing through the Holy Door of the basilica) and renew our baptismal vows there.

• We will pray in the Church of the Holy Spirit (in Sassia), renewing the vows of Confirmation we have made.

• We will pray at the tomb of St. Camillus de Lellis (patron of the sick) at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, where anointing will be available for any pilgrim who might need it.

• We will have a Penance Service at the Church of San Lorenzo, connected with the Apostolic Office concerned with penances and indults.

• We will pray at the Church of Santa Prisca on the Aventine Hill, as St. Priscilla and her husband, St. Aquila, are mentioned repeatedly in St. Paul’s Epistles as ideal examples of married life and love -- and there will be opportunity for couples to renew their marriage vows.

These are examples of how this pilgrimage will highlight the mercy of God in the sacramental life we share as Catholic Christians.

The pilgrimage will take place the second week of June, 2016, beginning Monday, June 6. For readers of this article to prepare financially, it is projected to cost $3,433, with a cash discount price making it $150 less.

For detailed information, readers may contact the Orate Institute at 722 S. High Point Rd., Madison, 608-203-6735, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in our churches and other Catholic institutions.


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