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 | By Father Tom Ackerman

The worthy investment of a pilgrimage

This summer, Father Tom Ackerman, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi University Parish, will lead a high school pilgrimage to Italy from May 31-June 9. In preparation for the pilgrimage, Father Ackerman wished to express his thoughts on the “unique and holy opportunity” for students.

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey with a sacred purpose. It is not simply a vacation or a religious “sight-seeing tour,” but it is a prayerful quest to experience God’s grace in a particular place. Although pilgrimages are often expensive compared to a beach vacation or a trip to Disney World, they are a unique and holy opportunity for your student that often will serve as a catalyst for a life of intentional, Catholic living. The powerful encounter of prayer that results from learning, visiting, and experiencing a particular place and time in our Catholic heritage is invaluable spiritually as well as intellectually.

Beginning with Christ’s birth, we see the importance of a prayerful journey for pilgrims. In Luke’s Gospel, angels exclaim to shepherds, “For today… a savior has been born for you Who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Lk 2:11-12) Following the proclamation, the shepherds decide, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place,” and they make their pilgrimage to the Holy Family. (Lk 2:15) Shortly after, the Magi make a similar journey to worship the new King, exemplifying again the importance of traveling to worship our Lord. (Mt 2:29) The tradition of Christian pilgrimage continues after the death of Christ and into the early Catholic Church. In addition, we have countless examples from saints like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Therese of Lisieux making the journey to holy places for their lives of prayer.

There are multiple components to the experience of a pilgrimage - spiritual, educational, and communal. At the core of a pilgrimage is prayer. Pilgrims are led to holy sites by a priest in order to reflect on the spiritual significance of the scene and ask for specific graces in those places. Students also have the opportunity, led by the expertise of a tour guide, to gain a wealth of knowledge about the history of the place, enriched by the experience of physically being there. Lastly, those on the journey enjoy the lifelong fellowship that results from other pilgrims encountering Christ in a similar way and place.

As stated before, a pilgrimage, typically taking place on another continent, is not without a significant cost. However, I argue that it is a valuable and worthy investment for your student that will sow the seeds of faith in an exceptional way.

For more information about the pilgrimage to be led by Father Ackerman, please e-mail