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Let us get serious about our daily pilgrimage

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Pilgrims walk to Namugongo Shrine recently.  Pilgrimages are not limited to places. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI.

“Life is a pilgrimage. The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches directly to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination. As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.”

This reflection by Swami Sivananda, a Hindu spiritual teacher, expounds on the essence of a pilgrimage, especially in the wake of the national pilgrimage to Namugongo, every June 3. Pilgrims believe being present in such a holy place brings them closer to God, engendering spiritual renewal. 

Monotheists (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), recognise the Holy Land (Israel) as the most sacred space on earth. This is the land “flowing with milk and honey”, as described by God in Exodus 3:8. 

Here, it is believed, that God entered into a special relationship with humanity. In Jerusalem, God gave Abraham a lamb for sacrifice. In Jerusalem, Jesus made a sacrifice of obedience to God, and out of divine love for mankind.

Pilgrim psalms
Pilgrimage is not compulsory in Christianity. Since God is believed to be available everywhere through the Holy Spirit, Christians were not thought to need holy places. The tradition is inherited from Judaism. Psalms 120-134 are often called the pilgrim psalms. Jesus made pilgrimages for the annual remembrance of the Passover.

The early Fathers of the Church emphasised the concept of life itself as a pilgrimage, a journey towards the heavenly city of Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Christians are portrayed as pilgrims and strangers on earth who have turned away from the disobedience of Adam and Eve, which condemned human beings to hardship and exile from God’s presence.

They are to undertake a daily life of obedience to God which will eventually lead them to their true homeland in heaven (1 Peter 2:11).

Inward pilgrimage
However, from the third century, individuals retreated in the deserts of Judea and Sinai, to intensify their encounter with God. This became an inward pilgrimage with God; focusing on prayer and meditation. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land became a Christian practice with the conversion of Helena, the mother of King Constantine. She discovered the true Cross of Jesus, and built a church, covering the Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus. She also built the church of the Nativity of Jesus, in Bethlehem. These became powerful Christian pilgrim destinations.  

Christians pilgrims/strangers on earth
Even then, Christians are encouraged to see themselves as pilgrims and strangers on the earth, temporary residents, whose true home is in heaven. Life in heaven operates according to God’s principles and values. The Kingdom of Heaven was inaugurated here on earth by Jesus Christ, Emmanuel (God-with-us). It is spread into the entire world by the Holy Spirit, residing in every believer. It will be completed when God judges the world. 

Our true royalty should, therefore, be to God’s truth, His way of life and His dedicated people. These will always make us feel like strangers to a materialistic and hedonistic society. The great moral command of the natural law to do good and avoid evil is a key component of this journey. 

Pilgrimages are not limited to places. A moral pilgrimage is life-long. It is a calling by God; shaping who we become and how we approach life. Every challenge we encounter on our way to our goal is an opportunity for growth. We learn to persevere when things get tough, to adapt to new situations, and to appreciate the small achievements along the way. 

On our daily pilgrimage, prayer will be an indispensable component; hence the name, pilgrimage of the heart. We pray for personal and societal healing. We pray for an increase in respect for human dignity, human rights and human life. We pray for God’s intervention in the rising cost of living and for human development. We pray for our leaders, and so on. 

In summary, being a pilgrim is about seeking God, who helps us in our weaknesses and shortcomings. Faith, hope, charity and humility, will be essential virtues.

 As we endeavor to imitate Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the heroism demonstrated by the Martyrs makes us aware of what has bound us so that we can become free from it. We count on the indispensable grace of God, the accompaniment of fellow pilgrims, and the intercession of the saints in heaven.