The meaning of pilgrimage

From Justi Schunior, St. Mark’s Associate Rector


This was my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My first, taken in 2010, was life changing. For me, pilgrimage is about incarnation and longing. As a Christian pilgrim, I longed to be physically in the places where Jesus was. As a person who had inhabited a real physical space, Jesus was someone I could imitate. I could be where he was; I could touch the places he had touched; I could become a little more like him by walking in his footsteps. The Church of the Resurrection, the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of Olives are all holy ground to me because they are part of the rich tapestry of faith. Even when we are not sure if the actual Jesus of Nazareth walked in a particular place at a particular time, we know that his followers did for centuries. They hallow the ground I walked on.

The St. Mark’s pilgrimage visited these holy places, of course. But we did more as well. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus and not noticing the pain of the people who dwell on the way is to not soak up the spirituality of the place. As we all know, there is pain, discord, and confusion in the land of our spiritual history.

For me, I needed to listen, truly listen, to the pain of the Jewish Holocaust narrative. I needed to meet a bishop who reminded us that there are still Christians in the Holy Land – Christians who provide perspective and balance to a tense situation. I needed to hear from a lawyer who passionately advocated for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and members of refugee camps who provided a future far brighter than the lights of suicide bombs. I needed to see young people committed to traumatized Palestinian parents and youths despite horrific shortages of resources. I needed all of these wonderful and terrifying experiences because I think following Jesus – really following Jesus is about expanding compassion. Comparing suffering never happens in his ministry. Suffering is suffering. And all kind of suffering happens in this Holy Land. It is ancient and contemporary; and it calls our attention. And yet I hope that the widening of our compassion expands to our own home as well – its ground no less holy. We also imprison a population, fail to care for and educate children, and ignore debilitating and painful history.

Pilgrimage should be life changing. It’s not just about travel and adjusting to foreign food and lodging. It is about changing the shape of our very being to accommodate new and uncomfortable truths. I look forward to discussing this pilgrimage with you all!




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