The word “pilgrim,” derived from the Latin “peregrinum,” conveys the idea of wandering over a distance.
Not just aimless wandering, however, it is a journey with the express purpose of honoring God.
Often when we think of a pilgrimage, we imagine a spiritual journey to places like Rome or the Holy Land, but destinations for pilgrims are often within a day’s journey. Many faithful visit local shrines, which are churches or other sacred spaces given special honor by the Church. Monasteries, cathedrals, or apparition sites are inspirational for pilgrims of all ages.
Several years ago, we embraced the idea of taking regular pilgrimages with our children.
Our journeys have established a sense of wonder of the Church as well as adventure in our Catholic faith. We have been blessed with an experience of the Universal Church outside our local parish and have participated in special indulgences offered to pilgrims. Further, we’ve been honored to expose our children to various religious orders in the hope of aiding them in their vocational discernment.
So, how can a family with young children experience a pilgrimage?
Before leaving, write down special intentions in a journal and keep it close while traveling. Upon arrival, light a candle, attend mass and confession, take advantage of built-in opportunities for prayer, a rosary walk, adoration, or Stations of the Cross. When appropriate, let the kids explore the grounds and enjoy a picnic with simple foods fit for pilgrims. Of course, visit the gift shop and talk to fellow Catholics, especially priests or religious. We have the most delightful, clearly God-ordained stories of meeting folks along our journeys!
Paramount in experiencing pilgrimage with children is maintaining realistic expectations.
When your pilgrims are little people, they’re going to behave like little people. There may be suffering along the way, but it’s an opportunity to embrace the mission and prayerfulness of the journey.
Perhaps start by visiting your local Cathedral on a day trip or simply adding a little pit stop on your next vacation.
Below are five notable sites our family has visited on pilgrimage in the United States and Canada.
Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, Hulburt, Oklahoma: Experience astonishingly beautiful Gregorian Chant sung by the Benedictine monks of Clear Creek. If you plan ahead, boys can dine with the monks, tour the cloister, and even participate in working the grounds of their beautiful surrounding landscape. Saint Martha’s Guesthouse is available for family lodging.
Shrine of Christ’s Passion, Saint John, Indiana: Pray the Stations of the Cross through this interactive half-mile pathway depicting scenes of the Passion of Christ through life-sized bronze sculptures.
National Shrine of Saint Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown, Libertyville, Illinois: We have a Maximilian, so this was a natural stop for our family. Visit their beautiful chapel, explore the grounds, and be humbled in their small, but profound museum detailing the life of this beloved saint.
National Shrine and Museum of Saint Thérèse, Darien, Illinois: Our daughter, Zélie Louisa was named for the saintly parents of Saint Thérèse, so it was an honor to journey to visit this shrine and learn more about Saint Thérèse and her life. The museum is a rich treasury of relics and memorabilia of Saint Thérèse, the largest collection of her personal effects outside Lisieux, France.
North American Martyrs’ Shrine,Midland, Ontario: The relics of Saint Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant are on display for veneration in this beautiful chapel. Nearby, Sainte Marie Among the Hurons helps bring to life the story of these brave Jesuit Martyrs.
I would love to hear about the beautiful and God-honoring places you’ve visited!