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Saturday, 9 July 2011

A pilgrim will ‘let oneself go’

The pilgrim’s mindset is established prior to departure. While packing bags and checking lists, the pilgrim will be mindful of the need to be open to God’s presence throughout the pilgrimage.
The pilgrim will purposefully leave behind family and business concerns. To quote Catholic theologian Fr Virgil Elizondo, “It is crucial to ‘let oneself go’ in order to be disposed to the action of God during the pilgrimage”.
A Jewish writer, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, offers a four-part formula for visiting a holy site in his book Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide (Jewish Lights Publishing):
1. Beforehand, anticipate what you are going to see by reading about it.
2. As you get there, approach the site with all the expectation you can muster, as if it is the only spot on earth that matters.
The happiest pilgrims are the most relaxed (
The happiest pilgrims are the most relaxed (
3. When you arrive, acknowledge its sacred presence, taking some time to be alone with the site, yourself and God.
4. After you leave, record your afterthought about what you experienced.
In the words of the Rev. Peter J. Miano, founder of the Society for Biblical Studies, “Tourists pass through places, but pilgrims let places pass through them, allowing their hearts to be changed”.

A pilgrim will have an open mind

The happiest pilgrims are the most relaxed. They don’t expect everything to go smoothly. They don’t get stressed over delays, itinerary changes or bad weather. They tolerate different people, customs and foods with an open mind.
The tourist may be hasty and impatient, mentally checking off sights on a to-do list. The pilgrim will be patient and considerate, remembering that the guide and tour leader are concerned for the welfare of the entire group.
A pilgrim is not inhibited by ostentatious ornamentation (
A pilgrim is not inhibited by ostentatious ornamentation (
The pilgrim will not be disconcerted to find that a treasured site is nothing like the picture in his or her mind. The pilgrim will not be inhibited by the ostentatious ornamentation of some holy places, but will focus on the meaning of the place.
The pilgrim will try not to be distracted when personal reflections are interrupted by another group’s singing, a tour guide’s commentary or tourists chatting.

A pilgrim does not travel alone

Whether in a group or not, the pilgrim does not travel alone. The pilgrim is open to encounters with others that build relationships. The tourist may find companionship, but the pilgrim experiences community.
A pilgrim does not travel alone (© Tom Callinan /
A pilgrim does not travel alone (© Tom Callinan /
The pilgrim prays for the success of the pilgrimage and for other members of the group. He or she makes an effort to accept other people’s different spiritualities and others’ need for quiet times.
Pilgrims are open to sharing their personal faith stories (though tactfully in sensitive Middle East situations) and to appreciating the faith of others.
The tourist sees religious buildings as objects of historical or architectural interest. The pilgrim sees them as shrines of a faith that lives on today.
Christians in Jericho celebrate Christmas in their parish church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Christians in Jericho celebrate Christmas in their parish church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
The Christian pilgrim in the Holy Land is aware that the very first Christians were simple villagers scattered around modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Descendants of these first Christians live in the same villages, still practising the Christian faith. These Arab Christians are called the “Living Stones” of the Holy Land. Joining them in discussion and worship is an act of solidarity for today’s pilgrim.

A pilgrim respects the host country

The pilgrim treads lightly on sacred ground and on the planet. The tourist may unknowingly trample on holy ground or intrude noisily into sacred stillness. The pilgrim is sensitive and respectful.
The pilgrim does not waste water or electricity, conscious that these are precious resources in the Holy Land. The pilgrim disposes of rubbish appropriately, no matter how much litter lies around.
The pilgrim respects the host country and tries to learn about its culture — not just as a spectator at an evening “cultural performance”. The pilgrim seeks to learn standard greetings in the local language.
The pilgrim learns tolerance towards persistent traders, accepting that they are just trying to make a living. The pilgrim accepts the presence of beggars and the ubiquitous expectation of tips, realising that pay rates are low.
The pilgrim may even ponder an 11th-century preacher’s injunction to European pilgrims: “The pilgrim may bring with him no money at all, except perhaps to distribute it to the poor on the road . . . . the pilgrim who dies on the road with money in his pocket is permanently excluded from the kingdom of heaven.”

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