Engraved in marble along the side of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop’s tomb at her shrine in North Sydney are her words “Remember we are but travellers here”.
Sage words from a woman who made a pilgrim of herself while on earth, travelling the length and breadth of Australia to fulfil her mission of serving the poor and remote, often on horseback in the most challenging conditions.
Pilgrimage has long been part of our spiritual heritage as the people of God. As the prophet Jeremiah (6:16) reminds us:
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
Embarking on a pilgrimage to a holy place, for a sacred purpose, reminds us that we are but travellers in this life, and like every Christian pilgrim before us, are wanderers without permanency, destined for an eternal home.
After an extraordinary two years, with international travel interrupted on a global scale as never before, the appetite for travel, and for travel with meaning and purpose, is bouncing back.
Well-worn pilgrimage paths, such as the Camino in Spain, the via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, and the entrance to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, smooth with the footsteps of the faithful over hundreds of years, after a pandemic reprieve, are once again receiving pilgrims.
Lesser-known pilgrimage paths in our own country, such as the footsteps of Mary MacKillop from Melbourne to Adelaide, or the outback trail to the Red Centre, are revealing themselves and being discovered by a new cohort of Aussie pilgrims eager to walk the pathways of the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
In Australia, the profile of a typical pilgrim is dynamic, and varied. Many pilgrims are young like those who attend World Youth Days, and many are older who have the time and means to travel; some are workers, professionals, parents, and students seeking to walk a pathway that will lead to meaningful and spiritual encounters.
Some are religious including priests and consecrated women and men. Others are not as engaged in the Church and come as seekers, open to all the experiences that pilgrimage provides. Many are looking for friendship and fellowship, and an enriching break from the everyday. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of pilgrims from Church agency sectors (particularly Catholic Education) for the purposes of faith formation and professional development.
Whatever a typical pilgrim might look like, the wonderful thing about pilgrimage is, that it is a great leveller. We are all pilgrims on the journey and walk the sacred pathways together.
Selina Hasham is the CEO of Harvest Journeys.
This article was originally published in the 2022 Season of Creation | Spring 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.