This past Saturday June 09, 2018, the Vietnamese Catholic Communities of the Archdiocese of Toronto and surrounding areas made the annual pilgrimage to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario. I have been to the pilgrimage since I was only 5 months old, making this year’s pilgrimage the 18th one. The pilgrimage for me is a very important of the year and I simply cannot go through a year without going to the Martyrs’ Shrine.
However, it is during these days that I reflect on the meaning of the term pilgrimage. To make a pilgrimage to a holy site is a journey. It is not a field trip or a vacation. A pilgrimage requires both material preparation and spiritual preparation.
Material preparation refers to material needs required for a pilgrimage. Nowadays, it is the act of preparation for a pilgrimage financially. In the old days, pilgrims had to walk long distances to real holy sites and therefore, they had to prepare for the long journey including physical endurance, food and drink. Pilgrims today have it easy: purchase a plane ticket, board the plane and you arrive at your destination in a matter of hours. Spiritual preparation refers to the preparation of the inner state of oneself, including prayer, fasting, and the reception of the sacraments. It would also be appropriate to do some research on the history of the holy site so that one may be more connected and understand the historical significance.
I will be attending Chaminade’s 2019 Europe Trip during March Break. The itinerary includes many holy sites, including Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, to name a few. I have never stepped foot in Europe before, let alone step foot in any of these churches. Yet, in order to achieve this goal, I have to undergo physical and spiritual preparations.
I can imagine the day that I step foot into St. Peter’s Basilica, at the site of St. Peter’s tomb, the heart of the Catholic Church. It is the site where the Catholic Church gathers for Canonizations, Holy Years, and papal funerals. I hope that making the pilgrimage of St. Peter’s will liven up my faith and my passion for Catholicism. As a toddler, I played with crosses, holy cards including one of Pope John Paul II and interested in anything Catholic. I even recall faintly watching St. John Paul II’s funeral on TV and nine years later, watching his Canonization. This all connects to the beginnings of Catholicism: The cross: the symbol of the faith, St. John Paul II, the successor of St. Peter. Being at such site would bring liven up one’s faith in a tangible way, a culminating point in the life of a Catholic.
However, going a pilgrimage to a holy site is a reminder of our own earthly journey. Life is a pilgrimage, as we face many battles in our spiritual life, but we try to overcome those battles through prayer and perseverance. We are constantly on the pilgrimage towards the holiest of places, The Heavenly Jerusalem – Heaven. During these past months, with the passing of Mr. Nguyen, a friend, teacher and mentor, the theme of Earthly Pilgrimage has come up in my mind from time to time. Life is a pilgrimage, but how do we overcome our battles? Do we give up or do we walk that pilgrimage to the very end?
We go on pilgrimages in order to seek God through the saints. This, along with our ministry and everyday routine are segments of a larger pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem.