Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Catholic Pilgrimages: Ancient Pathways for Modern Reflection

Guest Post by Megan Dahle 

“I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk.”―Psalm 32:8

Choosing to embark on a pilgrimage can be a life-changing and faith-building experience. Walking in the paths of saints who have come before us is a powerful way to reflect and reconnect with what is most important in your life.  And it is a chance to make reparation for our sins as well as those of others.

Oftentimes it can be difficult to know where to begin, in terms of selecting a destination, but here are a few you might want to consider.

The Way of St. James

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Crossing much of Western Europe, the Way of St. James leads travelers to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Since the Middle Ages, travelers have been journeying on the trails that make up the Way of St. James to reach the site in northwestern Spain. Undertaking this journey is one way to honor St. James, the first martyr and one of the twelve apostles. His followers moved his body after his death to Santiago de Compostela. Embarking on this particular journey allows for ample time to reflect while enjoying the splendor of nature.

There is not one single path; instead, there are a number of popular routes to take that all end in Galicia in Spain. One of the most popular routes starts in the Pyrenees near the French border, either in the town of Roncesvalles or Somport.

The voyage can potentially be more than 200 miles long, so, if you plan on taking one of the extended routes, consider obtaining a Pilgrim’s Passport.  This will allow you to collect stamps at various sites along the way and gives access to key pilgrim refuge spots.

Palestine/Israel – The Holy Land

Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus

A trip to the Holy Land will give you a new perspective to the Faith. A word of caution, however; there are numerous tours run by different Christian groups across Israel, Egypt, and Jordan but not all trips are presented from a Catholic point of view, so be sure to find a Catholic-based one.

North of Jerusalem you will find Galilee. If you were hoping to walk in the footsteps of Christ, consider making Galilee a part of your pilgrimage. A trip to the city of Nazareth can be especially powerful during Advent.

Nazareth is the site of the Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where Gabriel appeared to Mary, and the largest Catholic church in the Middle East. A 40-mile path known as the Jesus Trail will take you from Nazareth through Cana and Capernaum and past the Sea of Galilee. Tours focus on the places Jesus visited during his time of ministry and preaching.

Throughout Galilee there are small shops and tourist attractions focusing on travelers journeying on a pilgrimage. You can even purchase a bottle of wine from Cana, the site where Jesus performed his first miracle of transforming the water into wine.

An additional way of walking in the steps of Christ is to follow the Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem. This is the path Jesus took toward his crucifixion. Today, it is marked by the Stations of the Cross. You will truly never be able to experience the Stations of the Cross in a more humbling setting than the actual path of Jesus.

A Catholic procession is led down this path each Friday. The Via Dolorosa will lead you to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the location where Jesus was crucified, and to the tomb He was buried in before His resurrection.

Another site to visit is the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus. The Jordan River is also significant, as it was crossed by the Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

If you plan your trip to Israel during Advent, a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem can be a particularly powerful experience. The church sits on the site of the birth of Jesus.


While you might not think of Paris as being a particularly significant city, in terms of religious sites, there are a number of destinations that make the trip worthwhile. A pilgrimage to Paris can include a stop at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

The Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830, eventually leading to the creation of the Miraculous Medal. Like most sites where Mary has appeared, it is a popular destination for Catholics on pilgrimage.

The Miraculous Medal

A trip to Paris also allows you to walk in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac, and the Daughters of Charity. The Shrine of St. Vincent de Paul is the final resting place of the saint who dedicated more than 60 years of his life to helping to poor of Paris.

Once inside, you will find a breathtaking place perfect for prayer and reflection. St. Vincent de Paul worked closely with St. Louise de Marillac in founding the Daughters of Charity. Today, their works are carried out by smaller groups at many parishes through the world, as the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Sites Closer to Home

There are some sites that offer a unique, faith-building experience in the United States, as well. The Hawaiian island of Molokai, where St. Damien cared for patients with leprosy, is one such site. Kalaupapa National Historic Park is the only national park managed by the United States that has the distinction of being associated with a saint. Plan carefully if you were hoping to catch Mass in the church St. Damien worked at while on Molokai, as Mass is only celebrated on the first Sunday of each month.

Wisconsin is the home of the only approved apparition of Mary in the United States. In 1859, the Blessed Mother appeared to a young woman three times. The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin is a popular pilgrimage destination for Americans. The church sits on the site where Mary appeared to Sister Adele Brise. This is a wonderful pilgrimage to honor the Blessed Mother.

A Pilgrimage Will Change Your Perspective

A pilgrimage can truly be a powerful, faith-building exercise. Walking in the paths of the saints of the past can educate you on many lessons you can apply to your own life. When traveling abroad, do your research. Many pilgrimage sites are well-traveled tourist destinations, but some are in more out-of-the-way locations.

Pilgrimages offer you the chance to reflect, pray, and gain perspective in a way that is sometimes difficult to achieve in today’s world.  It is however important for all of us to make time for these noble actions for the benefit of our own souls.

Photos (in order of appearance)



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