In-Place Pilgrimages in the Time of Pandemic

By Gilmour, Peter | National Catholic Reporter, August 21, 2020 | Go to article overview

In-Place Pilgrimages in the Time of Pandemic


Gilmour, Peter, National Catholic Reporter


This time of pandemic has had its challenges for those who find spiritual insight and inspiration traveling, myself included. I have been isolated from experiencing wider worlds due to the stay-at-home orders. Admittedly, for the many who suffer greatly during this time, my clipped wings do not rank high on the scale of pandemic difficulties.

Nonetheless, I miss wandering and wondering through this world of ours. I have visited more than 30 countries, including nearby Cuba and far away New Zealand. I have walked the mud paths of Soweto in South Africa and have been moved to prayer in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia.

I have driven around the mainland of my own diverse country, visiting the slave auction site in Charleston, South Carolina, enjoying the bucolic elegance of Savannah, Georgia, walking the circumference of Devils Tower in Wyoming, and exploring Boston's Freedom Trail. I have backpacked in Alaska and sat by the ocean's edge in Hawaii, watching whales breach the water.

Surely, I have had the good fortune to explore the world, a privilege many have not had. Even so, I don't consider myself a tourist. Rather, I see myself as a pilgrim.

What's the difference? A tourist sees people and places. A pilgrim seeks to see into people and places. A tourist is satisfied having visited places and checked them off their bucket list. A pilgrim strives to encounter the divine presence through travel. Tourism is often a commercial venture. Pilgrimage is a holy excursion into the natural and cultural Revelation of all creation.

But what progress can a pilgrim make during pandemic times? My own personal challenge has been to embark on pilgrimages without leaving the confines of my own abode.

Each morning, I light a candle, place it in front of a specific object around my home, and then focus on the peoples and cultures represented by that symbol. I enter into the deeper realities these objects represent through thoughtful reflection and meditation.

For me, these armchair pilgrimages bring me closer to people around the world,, the possibilities and problems they face, and provide an occasion for me to examine my own life. Ultimately, pilgrimage illuminates the presence of the divine both in other lives and in my own life.

One morning, I lit a candle in front of a picture of a Cuban street scene replete with the legendary colorful classic cars and thought about the people of Cuba and their country's jingoistic motto, Patriot o Muerte, Venceremos ("Homeland or death, we shall overcome").

Another day, I found myself lighting a candle before a bumper sticker that reads, "Live Aloha." My pilgrimage took me to Hawaii where its people live close to nature and celebrate_ human diversity. Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono ("The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness"). …

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