Thus far in our series for WYD pilgrims, we’ve covered 5 Ways to Pray Before and During your Pilgrimage and 5 Items to Pack for World Youth Day. Today we are going to tackle the presence of suffering on pilgrimage. To begin, we will explore the areas (emotional, physical, spiritual) where you or your fellow pilgrims may experience suffering.
Your pilgrimage may bring up tough emotions. Maybe you signed up for this pilgrimage by yourself and are nervous that you will have a challenging time fitting in with the group. Perhaps you will be away from a loved one or will leave behind a difficult circumstance in your life at home. All of these experiences may evoke emotions from you and will impact you on some level. Though we hope your pilgrimage is a joyful time, we recognize that you bring all of yourself, struggles included.
Pilgrimage can be an intensely physical experience. It typically involves a lot of walking or hiking. You may need to stand for long periods of time. You may eat foods that you aren’t accustomed to or have meals at strange times. A lot of the pilgrimage will vary from your typical routine at home. The physical dimension of your pilgrimage will likely bring you some level of sacrifice and discomfort.
Depending on where you are at spiritually, this pilgrimage may present challenges. Perhaps you are feeling distant from God lately, and you are trying to make attempts to reignite your faith. Maybe you’ve experienced a personal transition, such as the death of a loved one, a job loss, a relocation, or the end of a relationship. Maybe you are in the midst of major discernment about a life choice. Pilgrimage has a way of bringing up aspects of our spiritual lives that we may be wrestling with.
The suffering that we may encounter on pilgrimage is emotional. It is physical. It is spiritual. Since suffering (or sacrifice of some kind) will be present on pilgrimage, just as it is in the pilgrimage of life, how do we cope with whatever we encounter on our pilgrimage? How do we approach those challenges prayerfully and with grace?
I offer you three simple recommendations to guide you through your pilgrimage.
1. Firstly, spend some time ahead of the pilgrimage to process and reflect on what you may encounter. Name those parts of the pilgrimage where you may struggle. Identify areas of your life where you may experience difficulty. Mentally prepare yourself for the emotional, physical, and spiritual journey ahead. And don’t forget to select a prayer intention!
2. Secondly, prepare yourself physically for the journey. Pack along a water bottle so that you don’t go thirsty and bring some snacks for those times when you need an energy boost. Break in your shoes and walk around your neighborhood (and up and down stairs) with your backpack. Consider what your physical limitations are and strive to accept those. While a healthy amount of fasting and pain is part of the Christian way of life, we encourage you to prepare yourself to face the physical dimensions of your pilgrimage.
3. Thirdly, trust in God’s love and accept where you are in the pilgrimage of life. Allow your upcoming pilgrimage to be an opportunity for whatever you most need spiritually. Take the time to pray on your own. To be in community with other pilgrims. To be silent when need be. To embrace painful and difficult moments when they come. To open your heart to growth by God’s grace.
One final word before we conclude: As Christians we know our suffering is not in vain. Our suffering unites us to the Cross of Jesus Christ who suffered. Our suffering must not lead us to despair but be marked with the hope of the resurrection.
Until we meet again pilgrims, we will be praying for you!
Carol Matesich is a Pilgrimage Specialist with Verso Ministries. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity Program. Carol first discovered the beauty of pilgrimage during her visit in 2005 to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. Ever since she has enjoyed the process of creating pilgrimages for others and experiencing pilgrimage as part of her own spiritual journey. She serves Verso Ministries by developing content for pilgrim reflection and carrying out administration for pilgrimages. Carol and her husband currently live in Ohio.