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placeholder Kitchen of Champions serves up lunch, jobs and a heap of hope

Pope Francis, leading by example

Young talent shines at arts festival

Obituary: Sister Catherine Rose Iverson, SHF

A pilgrimage of the heart will enrich the spirit

Churches adjusting to rising popularity of pilgrimages

Pope Francis plans trip to Bosnia

Motivating people to be involved in social service

Young researchers compete at middle school science fair

'Francis effect' has taken hold

Radical reformer, has enemies in, out of church

A true understanding of Easter

Chrism Mass on March 26

This season, learn how to be more loving

10 tips for Lent

The way of the cross, the way of life

Spend Holy Thursday in Adoration

Where is the kingdom of which Jesus spoke?

Let Jesus cleanse you of your sins, Pope Francis urges

Passion plays coming up

Lent is a time of 'joy' for Catholics

Renewal of spirit

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placeholder March 23, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA


Pope Francis greets people during a meeting with UNITALSI, an Italian Catholic association for the transportation of sick people to Lourdes and other Marian shrines, in Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2013.
Alessia Giuliani/CNS

A pilgrimage of the heart will enrich the spirit

By Very Rev. Joseph M. Mele

Visiting old, darkened churches, stopping at crypts and tombs of long-buried saints, walking long distances to rugged and remote places may not sound like a dream vacation or the most exciting adventure.

But approaching a pilgrimage as a means of discerning what Christ is saying to one's heart can open up new horizons that can exhilarate the human spirit more than can be imagined. A group from Pittsburgh did just that in September 2014. We traveled together to France, trusting that God was calling us to courageously explore like the saints we were visiting what he wanted us to discover about him and about ourselves.

Rev. Joseph M. Mele
A pilgrimage made in this openness can create a rush as real as skydiving or white-water rafting, especially if the pilgrims genuinely are convinced that God is accompanying them on their spiritual trek.

One hardly thinks of prayer and asceticism in Paris, where a world-renowned shopping culture defiantly claims to surpass certain religious ceremonials. The average traveler normally thinks of Prada, Chanel, Armani, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent in France, but not St. Vincent de Paul, St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Francis de Sales and St. Catherine Laboure.

For 16 of us, including Father Harry Nichols and Father John Gudewicz, every step of the pilgrimage to the Catholic shrines of France on Sept. 24-Oct. 3 was eye-opening and even life-changing.

When a pilgrim enters into the itinerary realizing that, like all of life's important moments, there is a mystery at hand, one becomes bolder in believing, braver in responding to what was never felt before.

You begin to see a much wider dimension of your own humanity in a way that's so personal just you and the powerful grace of the presence of Christ. A pilgrim starts to understand that the same love and devotion that you are honoring in the saints you venerate is the same holiness that God has instilled in you. It is already there in your heart.

We call it "givenness." It is the same Christ offering his love, the same way that he offered it to St. Bernadette, St. Margaret Mary, St. Lazare and St. Germaine.

All that matters as you follow the path that is opening up before you is that you receive his love in the deepest capacity your heart is willing to permit. French Catholic spirituality teaches that every created soul receives the same depth of Jesus' love.

The way that his love enters a person's heart is in exact proportion to how much you give him your heart. When one responds to his love and grace willingly, then one discovers what distinguishes a saint. They gave him their all and encountered him accordingly.

We pilgrims could only hope that what we were offering was acceptable as we renewed our desire to want to be a pilgrim-saint. One of our pilgrims, Laurie Craig of St. Alphonsus Parish in Wexford, put it this way: "I reali

zed more than ever just how important the saints are to us in the world and the church today. They reminded me that God and the Blessed Mother are closer to us than we sometimes are aware, providing us with practical help and hope through all the ages." A couple on our journey, Wilfred and Kathy Lee Foon of St. Fidelis Parish in Lyndora/Meridian, put it well when they said, "We both honestly feel that our faith has been enlivened and deepened.

This exciting pilgrimage was truly a time to focus on our own spiritual lives and our capacity to receive faith in Christ and the church."

A pilgrimage can be the best adventure of a lifetime. The culture shock of the deeply spiritual can create memories that will last forever, especially when you begin the journey to explore unknown parts of your human heart.

(Father Joseph Mele is secretary for leadership development in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He wrote this last October for the diocesan newspaper, The Pittsburgh Catholic.)


 
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