As an English major in college, I learned that much literature has a journey motif. Think of The Canterbury Tales where pilgrims are en route to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket and Huck Finn floating on the Mississippi with Jim. Journeys also mark our spiritual history. God sent seventy-five-year-old Abraham from Ur to Canaan and later sent his descendants on a forty-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Luke built his gospel around a journey theme, following Jesus as he makes his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. For centuries Christians have embarked on pilgrimages—spiritual journeys. The preeminent pilgrimage is the journey to Jerusalem, which saints like Ignatius and Francis of Assisi made number one on their bucket list. There the faithful walk the Way of the Cross in the footsteps of Jesus. Perhaps the second most famous pilgrimage is the Camino de Santiago de Compestelo, the one to St. James shrine in Spain. I know someone who returned from that pilgrimage a changed person. Recently Martin Sheen starred in a movie about the pilgrimage to Campestelo called appropriately “The Way.” Catholics make a pilgrimage to Rome. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, making a journey to Mecca is one of the mandatory five pillars of their faith. But we needn’t cross an ocean to pray with our feet.
Every church has the Stations of the Cross, a substitute for making the way in Jerusalem. In addition, shrines to Mary and various saints, (like our national basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.) dot our vast land, waiting to be visited. We can also make a pilgrimage in our neighborhood. I came across the idea of gathering with a group and walking together through streets praying aloud or silently for the people who live there or other intentions. Walking a labyrinth is another way to make a spiritual journey.
Today marches for a good cause, like last week’s March for Life, are modern pilgrimages. They surely are holy walks. In the same category are the walks that individuals undertake as fundraisers.
Pilgrimages can take the form of a journey of charity: going to a sick neighbor’s house with some chicken soup, visiting a hospitalized relative, driving to a funeral—even going to a sports event to support someone, when it’s the last thing you want to do.
Be sure to read this week’s book review about the Camino de Real, a national pilgrimage you can make in California or in the comfort of your home.
What pilgrimage have you undertaken? Has it changed you?
BOOK REVIEW Saint Junipero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions
by Stephen Binz
This is a fascinating book about the twenty-one California missions, the result of the faith and passion of the recently canonized St. Junipero Serra. He saw these jewels along the west coast as a holy ladder. Today, traveling an old route connecting the missions constitutes a national pilgrimage. Each mission originally was a community of Indians guided by Franciscans and protected by Spanish soldiers.
The first six chapters of the book are introductory. They cover the meaning of the pilgrimage, the life of St. Junipero, his inspiration from St. Francis’s concept of missionary discipleship, the spirituality of the native peoples, an honest appraisal of the history of the missions, and a collection of quotations from and about the saint.
The bulk of the book is chapter seven, which presents for each mission the story of its founding, information about the Indians who were served by it, a biography of its patron saint, a detailed description of the buildings, its history, the museum connected to it, and other nearby sites. The thorough explanations are obviously the product of diligent research as well as the author’s personal familiarity with each mission.
More than a history book, this book is intended to be used for a pilgrimage undertaken by the reader, either by making the journey physically in California or spiritually by “visiting” a mission each day. For this purpose, each section about a mission is followed by a prayer about a page long that includes a Scripture reading.
An appendix offers a map of the missions, a list of their founding, a prayer to be prayed by those making the pilgrimage, a glossary, and a list of references for further reading.
The book is well-written, clear and complete. It provides much insight into the early days of our country, the spread of Christianity, and our relations with the Native Americans. My only wish was that the photos of each mission were larger.
Reading this book, I learned a great deal, for example, what an enormous “city” each mission was. And for another thing, did you know that Bob Hope and his wife were buried at the San Fernando Mission? The book also kindled in me a desire to make this pilgrimage along Saint Junipero Serra’s Camino, which, no doubt, was the author’s purpose in writing it.