Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved travelling, and in particular the unique experience of pilgrimage.
The concept of leaving behind the ordinary, and stepping into a completely new culture, country and environment has always excited me. From travelling to Marian apparition sites with my family in Bosnia Herzegovina, to visiting small chapels on the southern coast of India, pilgrimages have helped me encounter the sacred and deepen my relationship with God.
The Christian pilgrimage usually involves journeying to a sacred place with a special intention or religious devotion. Catholics, in particular, have a strong tradition of pilgrimages to both New Testament sites and other landmarks associated with saints and miracles. Many consider pilgrimages an essential part of faith formation, as it allows believers to carry their burdens to a destination, with the hope of overcoming hardships, rejuvenating their prayer life and reaffirming their faith in the ultimate reality whilst on their journeys.
In September 2016, I was blessed with incredible opportunity to attend a pilgrimage to The Holy Lands of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I journeyed with my parents and some family friends over ten days, taking in Moses’ Valley, the incredible views from Mount Tabor and the ancient city of Bethlehem.
A highlight of this pilgrimage was on the last of our three-day trip to Israel, when we were on the brink of entering the holy city of Bethlehem. The journey across Jordan and Israel had been hot, exhausting, and a test of patience. Dealing with scorching Middle Eastern heat and the geographical and political obstacles of reaching various religious sites had proven challenging. I felt extremely fatigued and worried prior to entering Bethlehem, wondering whether the struggles of the journey were worth the end encounter.
A common phrase used at World Youth Day in 2016 was ‘P.O.P.E’- also known as ‘Part Of (The) Pilgrim Experience’. Whether it’s the scorching heat, somebody forgetting their camera at a sacred site or the never ending bathroom lines – many of the best moments in the pilgrim journey are the unexpected moments of awe or even radical hospitality that you encounter from everyday people.
It was a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, that provided one of those moments for me. As I rested my feet upon the mahogany boat all was calm. The sun was shining, the sea was gleaming and although our boat was far away from shore, I had never felt so at peace.
As I looked over the edge of the boat, I couldn’t help but reflect on how Jesus himself had called Peter to walk upon these waters and trust in him. Whenever I face difficulties, this biblical story always comes to mind. The leap of faith Peter takes is one that each Christian faces – to trust that all will go smoothly along the journey so long as we trust in Jesus.
Surrounded by the waters that Jesus himself had sailed upon, I felt the true wonder and awe of God. Even now I can look back on that moment and know that Christ is near me on this adventure, that God is, was and always will be journeying with us: every step of the way.
Geraldine Vytilingam is a Year 12 student at Catholic Regional College Sydenham and a member of our young writers’ community.