Faith & Travel Series: 8 Reasons To Go On A Pilgrimage

Worship at Taize in France.

A pilgrimage is a unique travel experience and the reasons why people take one are varied. You may have heard of people going on a religious pilgrimage, traveling for days to get to a sacred site, many times walking all the way there. Some  people embark on a pilgrimage journey seeking healing from a difficult time in their life. Whatever the reason, I think everyone should go on a pilgrimage at least once in their life. From a monastery in France to an abbey on the western coast of Scotland, I’ve been on seven of them myself. I have compiled a list of reasons for why you should go on a pilgrimage.

1.  A unique experience

A pilgrimage is not supposed to be a sightseeing trip or a relaxing vacation. It’s a physical, emotional and spiritual journey that forces you to go outside the familiar. It takes you away from your busy life and allows time for quiet reflection.

When I was the Director of Youth Ministries for my church going on a pilgrimage was a key element of our youth program. I sought locations that took my students out of their comfort zone and helped them to focus on the spirituality of the place. For many of my teens, this unique experience was life changing and inspirational.

2.  Following in the footsteps of others

People have been going on pilgrimages for centuries. Taking a pilgrimage to a well traveled location alleviates some of the stress in  pre-trip planning because your path is already set. It can also generate a sense of accomplishment in completing a journey that many others have sought before you.

When I was planning for the Camino de Santiago through Spain, it helped tremendously to have so much information from others about accommodations, what to expect, how to pack and where to eat. Walking in the footsteps of those who had gone on this journey before me made me feel like I was a part of something way bigger than myself.

Follow the yellow arrow when walking the Camino de Santiago.

3. Seeking answers to faith questions

A pilgrimage always has a destination that can be a sacred sanctuary, some type of worship, sacred grounds or a relic. People journey to these destinations to answer personal questions of faith. Completing a pilgrimage to a holy destination allows you the time and space that you need for discernment about your faith, to be strengthened in this faith and to feel enlightened. For years it has been a belief that at these places of pilgrimage there is a thin veil between this life and the after life. Visiting a thin place is an opportunity to connect with your beliefs on a deeper level.

The Isle of Iona in Scotland is considered one of these thin places because it is where Christianity first came to Scotland. On my pilgrimage to Iona, our group took the six-hour guided walk around the island. During our walk we were asked to spend some time in silence. When I stood in front a Celtic cross, that had been at this location since the year 1200, I could feel the presence of those who had come here before me. As I walked along Iona's Columba Beach, there was a peace that came over me as if the island was revealing something special.  Pilgrimage to Iona

4.  Healing

Maybe you got a divorce, finished chemotherapy, had some other illness, or are grieving a loss. A pilgrimage is the perfect journey for physical and spiritual healing. Some people believe that coming in close proximity to holy places or relics can bring them good fortune or rub off healing powers back on them.

At most of the locations I have traveled on pilgrimage, there has been lines of people waiting to receive healing or comfort at the foot of an ancient relic or during a communal mass. At the Cathedral de