Practical Tips for Planning a Pilgrimage This Summer

By Colleen Pressprich

A family pilgrimage can be a wonderful and fruitful summer activity, an opportunity to grow in faith together as well as explore a new part of the country or even a new-to-you parish in your town. Whether you choose a location near or far doesn’t matter, as long as you enter into the spirit of becoming pilgrims. 

What is a pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage is, quite simply, a prayerful journey to a sacred place. It’s a sign of devotion and an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God. Most pilgrims bring with them a prayer intention (or several), and at the end of their journey, they offer it to the Lord or ask a particular saint for intercession. A pilgrimage is a spiritual as well as a physical journey - allowing us to unite the two parts of what makes us human, our souls and our bodies, in a very concrete way.

Become a pilgrim

Because making a pilgrimage isn’t just getting in the car and playing tourist at your chosen location, you’ll want to prepare your hearts for the journey as well. Sit down together as a family and talk about why your family is going on pilgrimage and what your prayer intentions will be. Depending on the age of your children, you can even include them in the planning process.

Choosing a pilgrimage site to fit your family

While we usually associate the word with locations like Fatima or Lourdes (and if you have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage there, consider it), pilgrimages don’t have to be to far off locations. In fact, there are probably great pilgrimage sites within your own state and even your own diocese! 

Pilgrimages come in all shapes and sizes, so when considering how to make one as a family you’ll want to consider a few things.

What’s your purpose?

Are you making a pilgrimage to ask for a specific prayer intention? If so, you might want to do some research on different patron saints. For example, if your family is praying for a grandparent, you might consider seeing if there’s a parish nearby named after St. Anne, Jesus’s grandmother. Or if you have a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, you may want to choose a Marian apparition site or Basilica named in her.

What are your time constraints?

Do you have time to travel for an overnight trip or longer? Are you going to be stopping during a vacation? Do you have a single day or small kids who don’t travel well?

These are all great questions to think about when considering a pilgrimage. Once you determine your radius, you’ll be able to hunt for sites that would fit your family’s needs

Searching for sites

In the age of the internet, searching for local pilgrimage sites is easy! Many dioceses have websites that contain information about all of the parishes within them. Facebook can also be a wonderful tool for learning about new churches. There are countless Catholic groups of all shapes and sizes, and asking for suggestions in them can get you firsthand information about churches. If you’re looking to stay close to home, your local cathedral is a wonderful choice for a pilgrimage site.

What to do when you get there

There is no right or wrong way to make a pilgrimage, but some elements are common. Here are some ideas:

  • When you arrive at your pilgrimage site, take a few moments in the sanctuary to say hello to Jesus in the Tabernacle.
  • Attend Mass
  • Take a church tour (many large parishes have docents or staff that are willing to give tours, especially if you call ahead) to learn about the building’s history
  • Say a family rosary
  • Pray the stations of the cross
  • Pack a picnic lunch to have on the grounds (double check that this is allowed)
  • Go to confession
  • Visit the bookstore

I hope that you have a blessed and joyful summer, and that if you have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage, it is fruitful for your domestic church!


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