Wednesday, 20 August 2008

On pilgrimages...and Christus Rex in particular

I mentioned a few days ago that flyers for the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage (the picture is from last year, from the Christus Rex site) are around, so I thought I'd talk about the virtues of joining pilgrimages in general and this one in particular!

Now I have to admit I'm one of those people who hesitate to commit themselves to attending things until the last moment, and so October 24 still seems a long way away, but still, thinking about the idea of pilgrimage is good at any time, and I know some people do need to plan well ahead!

The concept of pilgrimage

The idea of pilgrimage is of ancient origin - humans like the idea of a holiday or time out with a purpose I guess. But they were a big part of Jewish religion, as we learn in the Gospel of St Luke with the famous story of the Holy Family making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem - and leaving Jesus behind....

That particular story is important on many levels, but one we perhaps don't often think about is that it points to the penitential aspect of them (at least for the anguished parents)! Certainly in the middle ages, pilgrimages were often prescribed as penances for major sins.

At the same time, the story also reminds us that pilgrimages are meant to be joyful, social events, a chance to catch up with people you haven't seen for a long time. I think this dimension is particularly important for traditionalists given that we often live in quite isolated communities. Many people who are traditionally inclined don't have access to the Traditional Mass normally - so this is a chance to meet up with like-minded people and 'taste and see'!

It is also worth noting that medieval pilgrimages often weren't that penitential - just think of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - so if you want to pike out and take a slightly softer option and stay in motels along the route rather than camping out, I don't see that it is in the least untraditional (though there may be some logistical issues to address)!

The most important thing about a pilgrimage though is that it reminds of the spiritual journey we are all on. A pilgrimage is a microcosm of our lives. It has a beginning and a destination - the trick is to stay on the right road to get there, for which there are maps and leaders to guide us. Pilgrimages remind us that we don't journey alone, but as part of a community. And just as in life, a pilgrimage offers aids along the way both in terms of bodily and spiritual sustenance. A pilgrimage also typically includes tasks to be performed along the way - singing as you walk, prayers for the dead at a cemetery along the way, and so forth.

Christus Rex

The annual Christus Rex pilgrimage in Australia (and this is the eighteenth) is organised around the feast of Christ the King - and typically ends with a joyful singing of the royal praises.

It starts in St Patrick's Cathedral, Ballarat and ends in Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo three days later. Each day there is a Solemn Sung Mass (with a choir put together from choir members from across the country), and as you walk, people sing, say rosaries and so forth. Priests are available for confession, and there is also generally a spiritual conference each day.

All meals and refreshments are provided.

The main penitential bit (apart for the walking!) is the accommodation - women and families can sleep in community halls along the way, but camping is strongly encouraged, and is compulsory for men!

By the way, don't feel you can't join in the fun if you are not up to walking all the way - the pilgrimage relies on volunteers to help prepare meals, drive shuttle buses and much more, so there are options for everyone to participate.

So if you are interested (and I urge you to be!), contact your State or country representative or take a look at the yet to be updated website.
Year of St Paul opportunities
And on the subject of pilgrimages, it is worth remembering that a number of churches have been appointed as pilgrimage sites in order to gain the indulgence for the Year of St Paul. So why not try and arrange a mini-pilgrimage in your community? Of course finding out where these are may be a bit of task based on my lack of joy from a quick internet search...

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