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placeholder April 9, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Religious pilgrimages a way to bring people
closer to God

Historically the word "pilgrimage" is associated with arduous walking journeys to Christendom's most sacred sites. Today pilgrimages remain an inspiring way to deepen one's understanding and reverence for significant events in Catholic history, although the mode of travel is much different.

Rev. Stan Zak

"A pilgrimage is to bring people closer to God," says Rev. Stan Zak, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland. "Something extraordinary happened in those holy places."

Msgr. Ted Kraus, pastor of Orinda's Santa Maria Parish, agrees that the parish pilgrimages can strengthen the faith of participants.

"They get back to our foundations," Msgr. Kraus explains. Visiting the most sacred places of Catholicism "really allows us to be in touch with the faith. It exposes people to the Church universal."

Many modern pilgrimages start with friends and neighbors from their own parish communities, often led by a parish priest. Each has its own tempo and flavor, under a common theme of visiting major sites in Catholic history plus frequent availability of liturgy.

Msgr. Ted Kraus

Father Zak is planning an unusual pilgrimage next year. He will lead many of the parish's 55 altar servers to Rome "to know the history of our Church and how important our faith is." He hopes the exposure will encourage some of the servers to "think maybe God is calling them to the priesthood."

St. Margaret Mary already is raising money for the pilgrimage. On April 21 it will hold a fund-raising dinner — Italian of course — to help pay for the altar boys trip to Rome.

Greece is the destination for a 10-day pilgrimage this August being organized for Concord's St. Agnes Parish. Rev. Vince Cotter finds that "when you read Scripture after a pilgrimage it is more alive."

Their journey will follow the route of St. Paul's second missionary journey. "We will be walking in the exact footsteps of St. Paul," says tour leader Andy Garcia-Baltatzi.

"Why do we visit Corinth? Because Paul found 400,000 sinners there. Why Patmos? Because that was where he had the inspiration to write his letters."

Rev. Vincent Cotter

Three years ago Msgr. Kraus led his first parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Walking in the places where Christ walked strengthened the faith of those who participated. More recently he led pilgrims to Rome.

This September he will lead a group to France, visiting Paris's Notre Dame cathedral, the stunning cathedral in Chartres and the convent in Liseux where St. Theresa devoted her life to God. They will also visit Normandy Beach, as a parishioner recalls his days landing there during World War II.

Yet Msgr. Kraus expects that the highpoint will be several days in Lourdes. The experience of being among thousands of believers at Lourdes will give participants "good exposure to the Church universal."

Each trip has its own tone.

In July Sister Joanne Gallagher, CSJ, of Pleasant Hill's Christ the King Parish, leads her 17th tour of Ireland. They visit St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, churches and abbeys — and even Irish pubs. She cautions that "we don't call it a pilgrimage."

Its strength comes in helping Irish-Americans connect with their roots, Gallagher says. After they tour their rich Catholic culture inherited from Ireland is better understood as the foundation of their faith.

Today's pilgrims travel by air and bus as they visit historical Catholic sites, rather than on foot as most Middle Age pilgrims did. But they experience much of the same contact with and deepening faith that their predecessors did centuries ago.

Father Zak, who was born and served as a priest in Poland, led many pilgrimages while in Europe. Some were longer, including a three-week walk for young people to Czestochowa, Poland's most sacred site. He recalls how it inspired many youths.

As Msgr. Kraus says, the purpose of a pilgrimage "is doing some spiritual education in our most holy places."

 
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