By John Paul Lichon
Founder, Verso Ministries
When I speak with people about pilgrimage, they often have one idea of what a typical pilgrimage group looks like - a group of retired men and women following around their favorite priest in the Holy Land. Unless we’re talking about World Youth Day, young people are generally not seen as the typical demographic engaging in the practice of pilgrimage.
Personally, I think there is a great opportunity to share with young people the beauty and power of pilgrimage - of intentional, purposeful travel which seeks to encounter the sacred at each step in the journey. Pilgrimages are one of the Church’s oldest forms of devotion, and they can have a transformative and far-reaching impact on your students, your ministry, and your campus community.
Here are five reasons to organize a pilgrimage for your campus:
Reason #1: Build community
Sure, this one is a bit obvious, but you cannot discount the benefit a pilgrimage will bring to deepening relationships among your students. One of the best ways to truly bond with one another is through traveling together. Through shared travel, prayer, discussion, meals, and everything else in between, your students will learn all about one another during this shared experience.
Reason #2: Reach a more diverse audience
When I first started leading pilgrimages, I assumed we would just be catering to the “campus ministry groupies.” Spend some serious cash to give up your spring break with people you don’t know and pray a lot? In my mind that would only be appealing to our most engaged and committed students.
However, I was completely wrong as I quickly learned that pilgrimages were universally appealing to a wide range of students. Some students were drawn in by the culture or history of the destination. Some were going because their best friend was on the trip. Others were fascinated by the mystery of a new experience. And many were truly seeking answers in their life. They were broken or hurting in some way and were looking for some consolation. A pilgrimage seemed to offer something worthwhile for them.
For these reasons, I am a firm believer that pilgrimages are a ministry of evangelization. There were always some students who would never in a million years have anything to do with campus ministry, but they were willing to join us for a pilgrimage. In this way, pilgrimages offer a unique potential to help you reach previously untapped populations of students.
Reason #3: Encounter your organization’s mission
The beauty of pilgrimage is that you can travel to any destination. Of course, many pilgrims flock to the traditional pilgrimage sites - the Holy Land, Rome, Lourdes, etc. - but sometimes it makes more sense to travel to a place with particular meaning or significance for your school or ministry.
You could pray at the tomb of a patron saint, visit the birthplace of your religious community’s founder, or serve at an international mission within your religious order’s apostolate. You could offer a thematic pilgrimage centered on your ministry’s history or heritage. First-hand experiences of these unique sites can allow your school or ministry’s mission to come alive in tangible ways.
Reason #4: Teach your students how to pray
A key component of any pilgrimage is time for prayer. Rather than squeezing as much as possible into every day, a pilgrimage takes a contemplative pace with plenty of time and space to calm one’s heart and to listen, search for, and encounter the Holy Spirit at work in our world today. Help your students learn how to unplug, to be comfortable in silence, and to develop their own personal relationship with Jesus in prayer.
Traveling in a group also allows you to organize different communal prayer times. Maybe introduce students to the Liturgy of the Hours or the Angelus. Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet or a rosary. Attend mass in a different language. A pilgrimage offers plenty of opportunities to introduce students to new or different forms of communal prayer.
Reason #5: Form disciples
Ultimately, the most important movement of a pilgrimage is the transformation occurring within a pilgrim’s heart and soul. A pilgrim doesn’t come home just to share pictures, but to share their ongoing conversion of faith.
Whatever stage of religious practice or commitment a student might be at, a pilgrimage can nurture a deepening relationship with Jesus. With the proper formation before, during, and after the trip, a pilgrimage can offer a unique way to form students in discipleship and empower them to help lead others to Jesus.
Design a custom pilgrimage for your campus
We know that while most campus ministers wear many hats, "pilgrimage planner" is probably not one of them. Let us handle all the logistics and details of your pilgrimage so you can have more time and energy to be with and minister to your students!
Each Verso Ministries pilgrimage includes:
- Preparation and follow-up materials
- A pastorally-trained pilgrimage guide
- Full-service logistical and travel support
- A contemplative pace
- A spirit of simplicity
- And much, much more!
Download our "Planning a Group Pilgrimage" brochure to learn more.
Join us on pilgrimage!
Discover the beauty and power of a pilgrimage first-hand as you make a pilgrimage to the island of Moloka'i. On this pilgrimage you will:
- Reflect on the life and witness of St. Damien, the missionary priest who served the lepers at Kalaupapa
- Spend time in personal and communal prayer
- Experience the beauty of Hawai'i and Hawai'ian culture
- Meet and serve with the local community
Learn more about the Hawai'i Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is primarily designed for young adults but is also open to CCMA members of all ages.
CCMA Members Only: Be sure to use "CCMA100" at checkout to receive $100 off the pilgrimage fee!
Learn more about what to expect on a Verso Ministries pilgrimage.
Read stories from the pilgrimage of life on our "Verso L'Alto" blog.
Learn more about the beginnings of Verso Ministries and our mission.