Why I Go On Pilgrimage By Diana von Glahn, The Faithful Traveler

For me, pilgrimage has always meant coming home to a place where I am loved. You know that feeling of security you get with family, knowing that even though they know all your crazy quirks, they love you anyway? That’s pilgrimage. Finding refuge in a chapel, away from life’s insecurities. Seeking understanding and familiarity in a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language. Resting in a haven of peace and tranquility in the midst of a busy city. I go on pilgrimage because, in the midst of my life’s pilgrimage, I need reassurance, I need reminders that no matter what, God is with me and He loves me more than I love myself. No matter where I am, in a Catholic church, I am home and I am welcome.

That sustains me.

Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga, Portugal

There are many reasons why I go on pilgrimage—to learn, to give thanks, to petition, to remember, to honor. Early Christians made valiant treks to the Holy Land to visit the places of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Having been blessed to visit the Holy Land on a few occasions, I recommend it wholeheartedly!

In front of Jerusalem's Western Wall, Petra's Monastery, and in the River Jordan

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales recounts the journeys of 14th-century pilgrims traveling to England’s Canterbury Cathedral, where St. Thomas Becket was cruelly martyred. Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which dates to the 9th century, was one of three pilgrimages that provided pilgrims with a plenary indulgence. The other two were the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Today, pilgrims flock to these locations and many others, including the sites of apparitions of Jesus and Mary, such as Lourdes, France, Knock, Ireland, Akita, Japan, or Kibeho, Rwanda. Penitent pilgrims trek barefoot up Ireland’s Skellig Michael or on their knees to Fatima, Portugal. Curious pilgrims visit the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on St. Juan Diego’s tilma in Mexico City, the incorrupt bodies of Saints John Vianney, Bernadette Soubirous and Catherine Labouré, or the Eucharistic miracles in Siena and Lanciao, Italy, or Seefeld, Austria. Many, like me, love to soak up the ambient holiness in cities where saints once lived, like St. Teresa’s Avila, Padre Pio’s Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, and St. Francis’ and St. Clare’s Assisi.

Santuario de Fatima, Portugal

A pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily require expensive and time-consuming trips overseas. In the first season of The Faithful Traveler, my husband and I visited some amazing places of pilgrimage, all within a few hours’ drive of our home.

We visited Emmitsburg’s National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, where the first American saint once lived; Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which has windows that rival those of Chartres Cathedral in France; and the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, where Catholics stood their ground in the face of discrimination in the early days of our country.

Closer to home, we are blessed with five amazing shrines—the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, the Miraculous Medal Shrine, the National Shrine of St. Katherine Drexel, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and the National Shrine of St. John Neumann—two of which house the remains of saints!

Pilgrimages begin long before we leave home, as we prepare physically and spiritually. That’s one of the reasons why we created The Faithful Traveler, to show pilgrims what they would see at the shrines we visit and why it should mean something to them. We might start a walking regimen before going to the Holy Land or the Camino de Santiago, read a book written by the saint whose city we’re going to visit, or pray a 54-Day Rosary Novena, asking for a fruitful pilgrimage that helps us grow in holiness. Many pilgrims make a sacrifice of their journey, by walking great lengths to their destination or by living an ascetic lifestyle during the trip, offering up luxurious hotel rooms and sumptuous meals in exchange for sparse lodging and light fare.

Avila, Spain

Once we arrive, the possibilities for spiritual and intellectual growth are endless. One of my favorite things to do on pilgrimage is admire and photograph the art, whether it be stained glass windows, statues, paintings, mosaics, or Stations of the Cross. I like to see beautiful things devoted to God because they remind me that He gave us the materials we use to honor Him, He gave us the ability to use those tools to make beautiful things, and He gave us hearts full of love that make us want to honor Him.

Once the art sends my mind and heart to reeling up to God, I get down to business and visit with my Heavenly relatives. I thank God for all of His gifts and I offer Him whatever weighs on my heart. I pray to the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph, her wonderful spouse, and to any saints whose statues I come across. Shrines are also a great place to learn about the lives of saints and to let their example show you new ways to deal with life’s dilemmas. They motivate me, inspire me, and help shoulder my cross a little better. And at the end of the day, all of this does the one thing that matters the most: it brings me closer to God here on earth so that I might, someday, be closer to Him in Heaven. It’s like Continuing Ed for those of us who want our St. degree.

Crucifixion Scene at Fatima

While I can’t presume to know what God thinks of all of this, I’ll bet He likes it. Just like any other relationship in our lives, God wants us to talk to Him (prayer), to be intimate with Him (communion), to be friends with Him, and to love Him. If you think about how you might feel toward a spouse, significant other, or family member whom you love, you want to talk to them, to tell them about your day, tell them when funny things happened. You keep their picture in your wallet or on your wall or next to your bed. You call them as much as you can. You want to spend time with them. That’s how we should be with God. Shouldn’t we love God more than the people we love here on Earth? And if we do, shouldn’t we treat Him even better (or at least, as good as we treat others)?

When you go on pilgrimage, keep these things in mind:

First, no matter where you are—whether it’s at home or in the middle of the most amazing shrine in the world—I think God appreciates it whenever we turn our minds and hearts to Him. Granted, sometimes it’s easier to do at a holy site, but the point is to be in communication with Him. He likes that, and it’s good for you.

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ

Second, if you do decide to make a pilgrimage, be sure to offer up every step of the way. Offer up the hard things: the economic hardship, the travel pains, everything and anything. Offer up the good things in thanksgiving. If you suffer to make a pilgrimage, unite your suffering with the suffering of Christ; do it in reparation for your own sins or for the sins of others. Offer it up for the conversion of people or entire countries. There are a number of reasons why you might offer something up, and it’s always good practice to do that whenever you can.

Loca do Cabeço, Fatima

Third, when and if you DO go, get the most out of your journey. Research the location you’re visiting before you go—just like you would with any other form of travel—so you know what you’re looking at and where you are. If you’re visiting the shrine of a saint, make sure you know at least a little bit about his or her life and legacy. If you’re visiting a shrine dedicated to a devotion or apparition, read about it. You will always get the most out of your visit if you know what you’re looking at.

And last, don’t forget to pray. Pray for yourself. Pray for the people who make the shrine available to you. Pray for the world and for all of us in it. And tell people about your visit. The best publicity is word of mouth, and if you can encourage others to visit these locations, as well, then you’re doing your part to evangelize, to bring them closer to God and to all His wondrous ways.

Created By
Diana von Glahn


The Faithful Traveler, LLC

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