More Americans Undertake Pilgrimages in Search of Active Faith Relationship

By Earls, Stephanie | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), December 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

More Americans Undertake Pilgrimages in Search of Active Faith Relationship


Earls, Stephanie, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Wayne Kwan's life advice to his son, Brian, was simple: Never do drugs or become a lawyer. Travel, if that's what you want. Find your bliss.

"I think for a lot of parents, the temptation is to live vicariously through their children. My dad just wanted to see me happy," said Brian Kwan, 26, who moved to Colorado Springs from Sugar Land, Texas, four years ago for an assignment with Teach for America. Despite the distance, father and son maintained a close relationship after the move, speaking regularly by phone. "Dad and I had a special connection. He always was very trusting of what I wanted to do."

That fatherly trust extended to Brian's personal decisions about religion. Though raised in a non- religious household, Brian began investigating Christianity when he was in high school and eventually chose to embrace the faith. Brian knew he had his father's support, but - given their conflicting beliefs - religion as a discussion topic was kept "very separate."

Wayne Kwan was only 54 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in June 2013. The sudden death shook Brian's world and his faith, and "not in a good way," he said.

"My dad wasn't a believer, he wasn't Christian, but he was my best friend and faith is a huge part of who I am," said Brian, who found himself at a spiritual crossroads. "It was one of those things I needed to make a decision on whether or not I wanted to continue with my faith."

Brian felt he owed it to his father and his faith to ask - and take the time to answer - that question. He didn't want to simply return to the Springs and his freelance photography business, to numb himself with work. He couldn't imagine finding true meaning on a vacation, either; too indulgent.

Instead, with no firm plans about what he would do when he arrived in Israel, Kwan bought a round-trip ticket to Tel Aviv in the fall of 2013. He hoped that a pilgrimage to the Holy Land - and a hike of The Jesus Trail, from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee - would allow for the reflection and insights he needed.

"I did want to take a break and just sort of get rid of all the noise in my life, kind of separate myself from the work and routine and do something that would mean a lot to me," Kwan said. "My dad was an amazing storyteller, so part of the process for me was also about collecting great stories to tell my children and grandchildren, just like my dad did."

Pilgrimages on the rise

Each year, an estimated 200 million embark on spiritual journeys to holy sites around the globe. In some religions, such as Islam, the pilgrimage is a pillar of the faith, expected, at least once in a lifetime, of all who are physically and financially capable. Christians have no scriptural mandate to travel per se, but many do.

In recent years, the popularity of pilgrimages has risen among Americans of all faiths, said Bruce Feiler, TV personality and best- selling author of "Walking The Bible," "Abraham" and "The Council of Dads." Feiler set out to discover and understand the force behind the trend in "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler," a six-episode miniseries that begins airing Tuesday on PBS.

"The idea behind 'Sacred Journeys' was we wanted to talk about the fact that organized religion is sort of fluid right now, but pilgrimages are more popular than ever. Why is that? Why do people do this and what are they trying to find?" Feiler said.

The key was finding American pilgrims who didn't mind a camera crew tagging along for part of their spiritual journey. It took almost a year to locate subjects for the series, for which Feiler accompanied seekers on trips to six of the world's major pilgrimage sites - to the healing waters of Lourdes, France, with a group of 40 wounded warriors; to the 88 Buddhist temples on the isle of Shikoku, Japan; to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and Osogbo, Nigeria, for the festival of the Yoruba goddess Osun; to the banks of the Ganges River in India, where as many as 100 million Hindus bathed away sins as part of the largest religious gathering in the world; and to Israel with a Christian man from Colorado Springs who was struggling through a crisis of identity and faith after the death of his beloved father. …

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