WYD pilgrims or tourists

Part two of a two-part reflection on pilgrimage as we prepare for World Youth Day and the pilgrims who will come to New Zealand on their way to the main event in Sydney next July.

This is part two of a two-part reflection on pilgrimage as we prepare for World Youth Day and the pilgrims who will come to New Zealand from all parts of the world on their way to the main event in Sydney. Part one was published in Wel-com last month.

Elizabeth Julian rsm

WYD pilgrims or tourists Archdiocese of Wellington Confronted with thousands of young people, how will we know that they are pilgrims and not just tourists? Obviously they won’t be dressed in the grey garb and hats of pilgrims in the Middle Ages which ensured equality of status.

Instead, wearing jeans and trainers they will have jetted at enormous cost, not trudged, thousands of miles. Perhaps using rosary beads as jewellery and tattooed with crosses, they’ll have iPods and mobile phones. While these may not indicate a life of simplicity, appearances can be deceptive. As part of their preparation these pilgrims will have discovered what makes a genuine pilgrim.

As spirituality writer Doris Donnelly points out:

1. Pilgrims realise that their journey has an internal, depth dimension, while tourists think only about the outward journey.

2. Pilgrims invest themselves and surrender the clutter that normally surrounds their lives so that God can take centre stage while tourists avoid any form of personal commitment.

3. Pilgrims understand that the getting there and being there are both important while for the tourist ‘being there is everything’ as a current advertisement says.

4. Pilgrims experience the joys and challenges of being part of a community while tourists journey as individuals even though they may be part of a tour group.

5. Pilgrims want the pilgrimage to change them while tourists expect it to be business as usual—until the next trip.

6. Pilgrims try to avoid the souvenir stalls and enshrine their memories in their hearts while tourists are eager to accumulate trinkets, etc.

7. Pilgrims travel light and unencumbered while tourists try to take the comforts of home with them.

8. Pilgrims respect the environment and all life forms wherever they are, being careful about the size of their footprint. Tourists put the environmental question in the too-hard basket.

Back on the road again

What can we do to support WYD pilgrims? Is there some way we can hold these young people in prayer? Our best contribution may be by becoming pilgrims ourselves for a while, to experience our own personal transformation.

Bishop John Bluck’s suggestions (below) given during an address at the National Conference of the Association of Christian Spiritual Directors in August 2003 offer some practical ideas for developing a pilgrimage mentality in the ordinary and the everyday, here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Perhaps we could find out the names of the pilgrims in our pastoral area and hold them in the highways of our hearts as we take to the road. Now’s good.

1.    Prepare yourself well with prayer and silence and pause before you begin each day of the journey.

2. Treat each new start, even if it’s only a trip around the block, as a new beginning, braced for all sorts of discoveries. Travelling with great expectations – hugely, extravagantly, naively, hopefully so – is the essence of all pilgrimage.

3. Consider everything and everyone you meet on the way as grist for your spiritual mill. Feed it all indiscriminately into the grinder of signs and meanings that will emerge eventually.

4. Find a reason to be grateful for everything that happens and everyone you meet, however much like a setback to your plans and progress they may appear to be.

5. Don’t be fooled by labels. Whether a pilgrimage route has or might have religious recognition is a poor indicator of its spiritual significance. In a country that prides its Pakeha self so highly as ‘secular’, the most grace-full journeys may prove to be the least religious, like speedway tracks and racehorse stables, garden tours, old mine sites, off-road courses for four-wheel drivers and beach walks at sunset.

6. Pilgrims don’t wait on feeling right or getting fit or ideal weather forecasts. Trust them to speak of God through whatever your state of unreadiness. So get started, knowing that you can always repeat the journey and that next time it will be different anyway.

7. Ask at the end of the day how whatever happened might be a parable for something bigger in the way you live your life and see the world.

Let’s take up Bluck’s suggestions either individually or as a community and enjoy our time on the road. Who knows what may happen!