The Catholic’s Guide to Local Pilgrimages

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Perhaps you’re among the majority of people who will be celebrating World Youth Day from home this year. Elizabeth shared some wonderful tips earlier on how to get into the spirit of things without having to trek to Spain. But maybe you’re still longing to go on a pilgrimage. What’s a Catholic with wanderlust to do?

“To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.” – Pope Benedict XVI

Although one can point to any number of iconic Catholic pilgrimage sites – Rome, Lourdes, Fatima – and get discouraged at how prohibitive it may be to visit there, keep in mind that the idea behind any pilgrimage should be the intent to visit somewhere to honor God. These visits should be special in that they offer a fresh perspective and change of pace in your faith that the daily ins and outs of your prayer life may not. You can think of it as a mini-retreat. Just because you can’t make the hike along the Way of St. James doesn’t mean that you can’t find somewhere local to journey to without taking up all your time and money.

Check out where your country’s local saints, blessed, venerables, and servants of God are from. Often the churches associated with them are hidden gems, and they will have many resources for exploring the life of the person being considered for sainthood. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about an up-and-coming saint.

For example, when I was in college, Mother Théodore Guérin was canonized. She happened to have founded the women’s college across town from where I was in school. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, and didn’t think much about what a rare treat it would have been to be there. Now, the sisters at the school have set up a shrine in her honor, and you can visit her tomb and relics.

Keep a running list of places to visit. Or, when you travel, look for local places to visit near your route or your destination. Make a point to build some time into car trips to stop at a local shrine or church. It’s a great way to break up the drive, not to mention an edifying spiritual experience. Make sure that the church is open when you plan on dropping by.

Don’t travel much? Look for what’s nearby and can be done in a day trip, including shrines, cathedrals, basilicas, and historical churches. Ask your priest or parish friends for suggestions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many small shrines there are near where I live – out in the woods, on the side of the road. This will really connect you with how your faith is rooted to your community.

Google is your friend – trying searching for “shrine near <your town>” to get a map of nearby shrines. Be sure to sift through the results, as you may end up with some unintended suggestions, like the Shriners, or local Buddhist shrines. You can also look through local travel guides – they usually have churches with historical significance.

One of my favorite shrines that I’ve found through this are the Schoenstatt Shrines. Each shrine is a replica of the original in Germany, and it’s wonderful to think about how others are visiting identical shrines all over the world, without the need for me to leave my country. You can see if there’s a Schoenstatt Shrine near you here.

If you find somewhere nearby but out of reach due to transportation, try drumming up interest for a trip through your local parish by organizing a carpool, or even a chartered bus if there’s enough interest. If you’re more traditional, you could even arrange for everyone to make a multiple day hike, like the residents of Illinois who trekked to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin.

Can’t find anything nearby of interest to you? If nothing else, simply try switching up your routine for Sunday Mass. Attend a different church and make a point to learn about their patron saint. Enjoy the change of pace and feeling of camaraderie amongst brothers and sisters in the faith.

A pilgrimage shouldn’t be a burden. Rather, it should be a visit to be enjoyed. While you’re saving up for that anticipated trip down the road, take some time now to familiarize yourself with Catholicism’s history in your own backyard. You’ll be sure to come away with a greater view and appreciation for the Body of Christ.

What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited in the past? What about somewhere you’re hoping to go in the future?

Allie Terrell

Allie Terrell

Allie Terrell is a 2010 convert to Catholicism after dabbling in a few different trains of religious thought. She graduated from Rose-Hulman in 2009 with a degree in computer science, and is now pursuing her doctorate in the hopes of teaching some day. When she can spare a few hours, Allie likes to visit religious sites and work on her photography. She blogs about her journeys at Here Is The Church.

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3 thoughts on “The Catholic’s Guide to Local Pilgrimages”

  1. Avatar

    In the Diocese of Wichita we have a three day pilgrimage on the first weekend of June. We walk 60 miles from Wichita to Pilsen. Pilsen is the hometown of Servant of God, Fr. Emil Kapaun. We have done this for three years, and this last June we had 60 people. We do this to promote awareness of Fr. Kapaun and his heroic witness as a POW in the Korean War.

  2. Avatar

    The shrine of the North American Martyrs in Midland, Ontario and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, NY are built on the sites where Jesuit Priests and brothers were killed. They suffered to bring the gospel to North America. (You can read about them in the excellent book “Saints of the American Wilderness”. Auriesville is also the birthplace of Blessed Keri Tekakwitha.

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