Pilgrimages open our hearts, minds to find God in all things

Published: June 23, 2018

By Chris Thomas
St. Edward Church, Texarkana

The wind came sweeping down the plains and, yes, the waving wheat sure smelled sweet as I sat in a park on the edge of an Okarche, Oklahoma, field.

The only human noise was the rhythmic sound of a swing as my 7-year-old grandson, pumped his legs back and forth. I closed my eyes and prayed as I embraced the peace of a wide open sky, a strong wind and the green of a spring day.

A pilgrimage provides an opportunity to step out of the ordinary and experience a difference, whether that be in the activity of travel itself, the food we eat or just the act of taking time to be aware of our surroundings. In that difference, as Jesuit spirituality reminds us, we are invited to experience finding God in all things.

The pilgrimage to Okarche was to further my understanding of the early home life of Blessed Stanley Rother and to give thanks for his spiritual presence in our family.

A pilgrimage is a journey of spiritual significance with the hope of an encounter with God. The word itself finds its origin from the Latin, "peregrinus," which means “from abroad,” and often involves travel to a shrine or sacred place.

A pilgrimage provides an opportunity to step out of the ordinary and experience a difference, whether that be in the activity of travel itself, the food we eat or just the act of taking time to be aware of our surroundings. In that difference, as Jesuit spirituality reminds us, we are invited to experience finding God in all things.

Pope Francis, in a message to Italian pilgrims in 2015, reminded us that it is God who draws us when we heed his invitation, often even giving us a yearning to go. The pope explained that, although the physical journey may not be necessary, it can give us the chance to leave behind that which might hinder us or blind us to God’s presence.

Our seeking God is pleasing to him and transformative to ourselves. Spending time walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, visiting the resting place of St. Peter in Rome or sharing in the presence of Mary speaking to her children in Lourdes or Fatima can refresh our faith and change our outlook.

As a Chinese proverb states, “The one who returns from a journey is not the same as the one who left.”

A pilgrimage can be an opportunity for foreign travel as well as national, regional and even local outings. These are places that I have been blessed to visit:

  • Our Lady of the Ozarks Shrine is in the breathtaking Boston Mountains in North Arkansas along Highway 71.
  • In Oklahoma, the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague can be found on I-40 and just an hour farther west is the resting place of Blessed Stanley Rother at Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City.
  • Farther from home are the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Our diocesan website, dolr.org, lists information about several international pilgrimages currently being organized by local Catholic schools, Arkansas Catholic and various parishes, including visits to the Holy Land, Italy, Germany and France.

A prayerful preparation invites God to direct your steps. What is your purpose and your hope? How would he have you respond to the inconveniences and adversities of travel? Who can you help along the way? Because we trust that God has given us this yearning for the journey, we trust that he will walk the way with us.

As Psalm 84:5-6 tells us, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”