We are a “pilgrim people,” always journeying from one point to another, sometimes spiritually, theologically or philosophically and often, quite literally. As we move from our inner or our exterior spaces, we need to remember we are moving from God to God, no matter what we do.
A group of pilgrims and I traveled to Ireland to visit sites important to our faith and to meet the Irish people and experience the Irish culture on the island. As we discovered, Ireland is a most popular place for pilgrims, tourists, shoppers and generally people of many and varied backgrounds and cultures.
Not unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, each of us brought our own stories on the journey. We were traveling for many reasons, not all of them expressed. Some wanted or needed to put space between their lives in southern Illinois and the space they would occupy on the pilgrimage.
A few wanted to visit Ireland, to see, in some cases, the land of their ancestors, to walk the rocky hills and visit the places they had heard about all their lives.
To be pilgrims, people must be open to adventure, to change, to living and moving as a group, and this isn’t always clear at first. However, pilgrims soon realize that the journey will change them, perhaps open them to thinking in new or slightly different ways. We all came to see that sleep was somewhat overrated on a few days and impossible to avoid on others.
People were asked to step away from their comfort zones, especially when the weather didn’t cooperate. “If it’s raining, it’s Ireland,” people told us. Except for a few days, “people” were right, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to this hardy group of pilgrims. Looking at Celtic crosses at the ruins of the abbey of St. Kevin of Glendalough in County Wicklow, the rains began to fall, and the winds picked up. We pilgrims zipped our jackets and raised our umbrellas and continued our pilgrimage.
That’s part of it, too, the determination to move forward, not to falter or not to falter long, not to seek too much comfort along the way. We thought about the people who lived in this abbey and others whose stout hearts and deep faith gave them the courage to continue their journeys.
We knew that soon enough our time in Ireland would end, and we wanted to see as much as we could, experience the sights, sounds, the touch and the smell of a place different from our own, with people who were quite like we are, looking for hope in a troubled world, seeking peace in the pew of a church in Knock where Our Lady, St. Joseph and John the Evangelist appeared Aug. 21, 1879 to people there.
As a pilgrim people we continue our journey here, in our homes, our communities, sharing our faith and our stories of pilgrimage with friends and neighbors, realizing that we must stay open to all of the possibilities God offers us on our way.