07 July 2014

Pilgrim: (n)

1. a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.
2. a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.
3. an original settler in a region.
4. ( initial capital letter ) one of the band of Puritans who founded the colony of Plymouth, Mass., in 1620.

Okay, I’ll admit, when I think of pilgrim I think of this:


You know, Thanksgiving and Plymouth Rock and that age-old joke of If April showers bring May flowers what do Mayflowers bring?

Of course somewhere along the way I’ve learned about other types of pilgrims, such as those of the Muslim faith who participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca, and I guess I knew there were other pilgrimages as well… but I never gave it much thought.

Until a couple of weeks ago when I went to Lourdes – a catholic pilgrimage site in the Pyrenees of southwestern France, which I had never heard of, that hosts approximately six million pilgrims per year.
Six million pilgrims.

About 150 years ago an apparition (appearance, vision) of Mary, (the mother of Jesus) appeared to a young girl named Bernadette and was accompanied by some healings.  I won’t butcher the story so if you want to know more, visit Wikipedia: Lourdes or Official Site of Lourdes.

The church atop the cave.
What captured me was not the story.  Whether or not the story is true is not the point, at least of this particular blog post.  What captured me was the six million people who traverse the globe to come to this place and see, what is quite literally, rock and water. 

The cave
Six million people!  That’s ten times the population of Seattle, or more than the entire state of Minnesota.  That’s a lot of people coming to this tiny little town (15,000 residents) to see a cave.


I stood there, surrounded by thousands of people from all tribes and tongues and nations, and could feel within me the collective longing and desire of the human race represented there that day.  I wanted to climb into their heads, to understand, to ask about a million questions.  I wanted to understand. I still do.

Why would you travel thousands of miles and spend a life’s savings to walk past a cave?  What is it you believe? What is it that brought you here? What do you believe about this water – that it will heal you? Why? Why? Why?

I just don’t understand it.  At all.  And I don’t mean any disrespect to Catholics or those who participate in a pilgrimage.  Let the record show I love the people and appreciate and respect the faith even if I don’t always agree with it.  I just don’t understand.

What captured me was the longing I felt there, the genuine desire for a divine encounter, the astounding faith of the multitudes surrounding that place, filling the sanctuary, streaming out of the train station and through the shops selling candles and water jugs and crucifixes and rosaries.  I think they came from every corner because they believed they would encounter God there, in some way or another.  

And that is what makes tears pool in my eyes and my heart ache for those six million pilgrims – those who journey, especially a long distance, to some sacred place what they are searching for is Emmanuel, which means God With Us.

You don’t have to go anywhere to meet with God.  He is already with us.
I didn’t visit Lourdes as a pilgrim in the sense of the first definition, rather we were more like religious tourists.   However, something in me really likes the second definition of pilgrim: a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.  That definition fits me perfectly. 

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