HomeQuestions & AnswersWhat is a Pilgrimage? How do You do One?
Questions & Answers

What is a Pilgrimage? How do You do One?

Tags: Church, Our Lady, Pilgrimage
The word “pilgrimage” is derived from the French pèlerinage which in turn comes from the Latin peregrinatio, a journey abroad. A pilgrimage is a journey made to a religious shrine.

The statue of the Blessed Virgin in the shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Switzerland
The statue of the Blessed Virgin in the shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Switzerland
In the month of May, which is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, pilgrimages are frequently organized to her shrines, to visit her and honour her as our Mother.

St Josemaria found it very moving when devotions to the Blessed Virgin were attended by large crowds of people. But he always said that he felt a special love for pilgrimages done individually or in small groups of perhaps just two or three. “I respect and love public demonstrations of devotion, but I must admit I prefer to offer Mary the same affection, the same enthusiasm, in private visits or with very few people – a more intimate sort of thing” (Christ is Passing By, no. 139).

In 1939, after his first visit to the shrine of Sonsoles in Avila, Spain, St Josemaria laid it down that as a sign of love for our Lady, all the faithful of the Opus Dei Prelature should make a pilgrimage to a shrine of our Lady, or a place where a picture or statue of her is venerated, once a year, in May. Since then this custom has spread among many more people who have come in contact with his message.

The May pilgrimage is a visit to our Blessed Lady made with the love and affection of a good son or daughter. What St Josemaria himself did, and recommended, was to pray three parts of the Rosary: one on the way to the shrine, another – usually the Rosary of the day, followed by the litany of Loreto – at the shrine itself, and the third on the way back.

We can offer our Lady little sacrifices for our own needs and for the whole Church, such as going on foot, at least for the last part of the way; accepting cheerfully any discomforts on the journey, or bad weather; going without the snack or refreshment that we might normally have on a walk; etc.

The May pilgrimage has a strongly apostolic spirit. St Josemaria encouraged us to take friends and relations on pilgrimages with us, and to take the opportunity to suggest that they could take a step forward in their Christian life.

“Many conversions, many decisions to give oneself to the service of God have been preceded by an encounter with Mary. Our Lady has encouraged us to look for God, has stirred up our inner yearnings in a truly motherly way, to desire to change, to lead a new life” (cf. Christ is Passing By, no. 149).
St Josemaria praying the rosary in May 1974
St Josemaria praying the rosary in May 1974

“Mary’s motherhood in our regard is manifested in a particular way in the places where she meets us: her dwelling places; places in which a special presence of the Mother is felt. (...) In all these places that unique testament of the Crucified Lord is wonderfully actualized: in them man feels that he is entrusted and confided to Mary; he goes there in order to be with her as with his Mother; he opens his heart to her and speaks to her about everything: he ‘takes her to his own home’, that is to say, he brings her into all his problems” (St John Paul II, Homily at Fatima, May 13, 1982).

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