Presenting a chapter from my new book about pilgrimage – HOLY RAMBLINGS: Travelogues, Commentaries, and Meditations on Pilgrimages Far and Near. Available in ebook and print formats: www.holyramblings.com
Well, a week or so ago, just when this period of enforced solitude was beginning, I was talking with the office manager of my parish, the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Natchitoches, Louisiana, and I asked her, “Does my timing suck, or what?” After months of work, much longer than I anticipated when I started this project back in the summer, I finally had received a box full of paperbacks, was ready to seek permission from the rector of the basilica to place a few in the gift shop, and announce their availability there as well as from the online merchants that can be accessed through the link above. Then this happened, the new world of social distancing went into effect, public Masses were suspended indefinitely in the Diocese of Alexandria, and the gift shop closed. I ultimately decided on the smaller-scale online roll-out that I started Wednesday evening via Facebook, of which this is a continuation – with a bonus.
Besides meditation on what exactly pilgrimage is and why it seems to be an almost exclusively Catholic thing among modern Christians, followed by detailed day-by-day narratives of my three “big” pilgrimages over the past few years – to Rome and Italy, to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and to the Holy Land – I also spend a couple of chapters surveying the wider world of pilgrimage, discussing the most popular destinations around the world as well as these United States. With the world currently on shutdown, however, the pilgrimage industry as well as basically any other nonessential travel at virtually any level has screeched to a halt. Quarantine, “stay-at-home,” call it what you will, suddenly we are all largely confined to our abodes with a great deal of time on our hands even if we are part of this grand new experiment in work-from-home, “telecommuting,” again call it what you will. What better way to spend some of that time than going on a pilgrimage?
After those surveys of “pilgrimages far” (around the world) and “near” (around the United States), I tackle the subject of “pilgrimages here,” at home – literally – by various means including the new possibilities afforded by modern technology. Here follows that chapter, with commentary after….
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[Copyright (c) 2020 Kent G. Hare]
The primary connotation of the idea of “pilgrimage” is physical, that of a bodily journey usually toward a physical destination having some religious significance. In today’s increasingly connected world, however, it is suggested that one need not necessarily make such a physical journey at all to attain at least something of the qualities of a pilgrimage. And it is often overlooked that some of the most stereotypically Catholic devotions may be conceptually considered pilgrimage in their very nature. Different ways are proposed to make what has variously been termed an “armchair pilgrimage” or a “virtual pilgrimage” while remaining “here,” i.e., at home. In today’s technologically connected world, of course, the latter term evokes a particular activity that is worth discussion in its own right. I will begin, however, with an activity far more fundamental, one grounded not in technology and available to – dare I say? – virtually everyone.
As touted in countless campaigns promoting literacy, books open whole new worlds to the reader. The spiritual writings of the saints connect us with these allies in heaven in a way that can be, although quite different from, no less profound and much more accessible than making a pilgrimage to their shrines or tombs. The same is obviously true of Holy Scripture, inspired by God as it is, the written word of God through which we encounter the Divine Word of God. This is especially the case when the reading of Scripture takes place against memories gained in a physical pilgrimage to the Holy Land, one’s own, or perhaps those of someone else.
Written accounts of pilgrims’ travels stand in a tradition that goes back to the beginning of Christian pilgrimage during the heady century following the sudden – and, I would posit, unexpected and shocking – emergence of the Church from the catacombs after three centuries of at best social and legal marginalization and at worse bloody, fiery persecution. Just after the year 300, having attained supremacy in the western half of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity by the 313 Edict of Milan, instantly deflecting the trajectory of church-state relations onto a path that would have the Church socially, legally, and religiously dominant before that fourth century of the Christian era (as it would soon be considered) had passed. What had hitherto been a local practice of venerating the mortal remains of those Christians who had witnessed to the Faith unto death as martyrs and thus became triumphant victims of the Romans’ oft-times frantic efforts to stamp out what they considered a plague of anti-Roman, anti-human, irreligious, “atheistic,” insanity now had an incredible and practical new focus. Rome, the capital of the empire, held the places of martyrdom and the powerful relics of the two most important figures of the first years of the Church: St. Peter, to whom Christ had given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the first Vicar of Christ, who had been martyred on the Vatican hill just across the Tiber River; and St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, who had written more than half of the Christian Scriptures, who had been martyred just “Outside the Walls” along the Appian Way. Not to denigrate the local martyr who was just as surely in heaven with Christ and a powerful intercessor as witnessed by miracles and wonders told and retold and eventually written down, how much more powerful must be these foundational heroes of the Faith. So must the thought process have gone as pilgrims from every corner of the empire almost immediately began to descend upon Rome. Then, a mere dozen years later, once Constantine had won control of the eastern half of the Empire as well, word spread that his mother, Helena, had traveled to Jerusalem, the mother city of the Faith, where the Savior had walked the earth as man, and there had miraculously discovered the site of the Crucifixion, the location of the Tomb and the Resurrection, the site of the Ascension, even the True Cross itself. At once, pilgrims started streaming eastward to that Holy Land which by its very nature, as the land where the Savior had been born, had lived, had died and rose again and ascended to heaven, was itself a great and powerful relic capable of imparting enormous graces. At the same time, Helena’s transporting many individual relics back to Rome – the Manger from Bethlehem, the Scala Sancta from Jerusalem, even the land itself (embedded in the foundation of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Holy Cross in Jerusalem) – reinforced the Eternal City’s status as a destination for pilgrims in the west.
Almost as quickly, pilgrims’ accounts of their travels began appearing. There had been pilgrimages earlier. The natural human impulse to see the land of the Savior led the earliest pilgrim of whom we know, St. Melito, Bishop of Sardis in the mid-late second century, in his journey to the Holy Land; Origen traveled there ca. 250; both sought to see for themselves the holy places of the patriarchs and prophets, Jesus and his disciples. Origen found that the locals had the sales pitch already down, being all too ready to show him the exact location where, e.g., Jesus had driven out the Gadarene swine. Neither left systematic accounts of their travels, but close on the heels of Christianity’s legalization (and of St. Helena’s explorations), in the 330s there appeared the first pilgrim’s account, that of the widely distributed Itinerarium Burdigalense (Bordeaux Itinerary) which recounts in sometimes excruciating detail every stage of an anonymous pilgrim’s journey, where he stopped (every stop), for how long, and so forth, from Bordeaux through northern Italy, to Constantinople, across Anatolia and Syria to Jerusalem – and back again by a more southerly route through Macedonia, Otranto, Rome, and Milan. It is generally more a list and notes than a narrative, although it does identify the places in the Holy Land with the Biblical events for which they are known. The anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux must have run into Origen’s locals because he was apparently shown where the Transfiguration took place on the Mount of Olives….
Two interesting documents from the later fourth century attest to a quickly flourishing pilgrimage culture in the Holy Land. There, having joined their spiritual director, St. Jerome, mother and daughter Sts. Paula and Eustochium wrote a letter, probably dated 386, back to a friend in Rome, urging one Marcella to join them in the east. They asserted that pilgrimage was a longstanding custom from Apostolic days to their own, with pilgrims from Armenia, Persia, India, and Ethiopia, from Gaul and Britain – and every place in between – crowding the holy places. We have direct testimony from one of these in the form of the earliest fully narrative account of a Christian pilgrimage that we possess, at least in part. In those same 380s that Paula and Eustochium invited Marcella, one Egeria (formerly rendered Etheria, or Aetheria, or even Sylvia), a nun probably from northern Spain but just possibly from southern Gaul, spent several years on a journey from her home in the west to the holy places in the east, toward the end of which she composed a letter back to her religious sisters describing the places she had been. These included Mount Sinai, Constantinople, Jerusalem (for three years), and Palestine, with excursions to Mount Nebo, Syria, Haran, Asia Minor, and probably many other places. Egeria’s Perigrinatio (Pilgrimage) only survives in part, but what we have is incredibly informative, with the travelogue being supplemented by detailed descriptions of the various liturgies in Jerusalem, attesting early consolidation of the ecclesiastical calendar. Her description of Holy Week and the commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection make for fruitful reading during that holiest time of the year.
Two centuries later, another anonymous pilgrim, typically called “The Piacenza Pilgrim” from an erroneous attribution to St. Antoninus of Piacenza, provides us with another travelogue of great interest and value for its depth of description, especially of the landscape, and for attesting to probably universal pilgrims’ customs such as when he went to Cana and reclined on the very couch Our Lord did – and proceeded to inscribe the names of his parents as a sort of prayer. He describes important relics such as the chalice of onyx already venerated in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Lance in the Basilica of Zion. One importance of the Piacenza Pilgrim’s account is its date – in the late sixth century, only a couple of generations before the coming of the double blow of the Persian invasion of 614 and its destruction of Constantine’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, followed by the 638 irruption of Islam into Palestine, shearing off much of the increasingly decrepit Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire as it then stood – bringing the golden age of Roman-Byzantine Mediterranean Christendom to an end.
Despite the common assumption that the advent of Islam slammed shut the doors to the holy sites for Christian pilgrims, evidence suggests otherwise. Forty or fifty years later, ca. 680, the Frankish Bishop Arculf returned from there, bringing back memories of his pilgrimage that were immortalized when his descriptions to the abbot of Iona Abbey off the coast of western Scotland, St. Adómnan, became the latter’s De Locis Sanctis (Concerning the Holy Places) – which formed the basis, a further half-century later, for St. Bede the Venerable to compose his book of the same name. Arculf/Adómnan/Bede described Jerusalem as being filled with throngs of Christian pilgrims.
Two centuries later, a Carolingian Frankish monk, Bernard the Pilgrim, left a travelogue of his journey around the Mediterranean. And so on…. Many other such accounts appeared as centuries passed. They were obviously of enduring popularity. The article at Wikipedia, “Travelogues of Palestine,” cites “more than 3,000 books and other materials detailing accounts of […] journeys” to the region, giving a select list numbering several dozen, starting in Pre-Ottoman times (pre-sixteenth century) and carrying forward into the twentieth century. Many of the accounts listed are not overtly religious in nature, which does bring up the question of what pertinence they are to one seeking a “pilgrimage account” – but even those “not overtly religious” were obviously written by travelers from a Christian culture attracted to the region for an historical import that is, fundamentally, grounded in that Christian heritage. The nineteenth century, in particular, witnessed an explosion in interest that inspired the creation in England of the Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society to publish a series of editions and translations of medieval texts ranging from the fourth century to the fifteenth, including almost every one of those I have listed above.
Twentieth- and 21st-century travelers have continued the literary tradition, although examples seem harder to run down, and they bear the mark of a post-Enlightenment, increasingly post-Christian world. One notable exception, both in its availability and outlook – the former doubtless because of the current renaissance in Chesterton studies, the latter because of his fundamentally Catholic sensibility even a dozen or more years before his formal conversion, is the famed English essayist G. K. Chesterton’s The New Jerusalem (1920). Chesterton scholar Dale Ahlquist characterizes this book as recounting “a philosophical travelogue of [Chesterton’s] journey across Europe, across the desert, to Palestine.” Scholarly works about pilgrimage and the various accounts through the centuries seem more numerous in the modern era, but, usually standing aloof from the Faith, they are generally not spiritually edifying. Although there is a relative abundance of travel guides, both secular and religious, searching Amazon.com for Catholic pilgrimage travelogues to the Holy Land yields only a handful of items from recent years:
M. Basil Pennington, Journey in a Holy Land: A Spiritual Journal (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2006).
George Jerjian, Seeking God – A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (self-published, 2013)
Mitch Pacwa, S.J., The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media – Servant Books, 2013)
James Martin, S.J., Jesus: A Pilgrimage (New York: HarperCollins, 2014).
Lawrence R. Farley, Following Egeria: A Modern Pilgrim in the Holy Land (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2015)
Of these, I have read only Jerjian, Pacwa, and Farley. The former, by a British Armenian Catholic, attempts to balance travelogue with devotional and includes substantial quotations from his Catholic priest pilgrimage director. Interestingly, I have seen this little self-published book promoted on the bookstore section of the web site for the Notre Dame Centre in Jerusalem. I found Farley’s a more polished read, especially his asynchronous interaction with the fourth-century nun while following her extant itinerary. He is an Orthodox priest, so his general outlook is quite compatible with that of Catholics, in most respects. One interesting fact emphasized by his account is the reality that for many of the holy places venerated for specific events, there are competing locations, Catholic and Orthodox. Very late in the writing of this book, after months of finding Fr. Pacwa’s volume listed as out-of-stock and available only at greatly inflated used-book prices, I discovered a few copies once more being offered on Amazon at cover price. I seized one of the last copies and am incredibly happy that I did so. It is, in my judgment, the perfect example of what it proclaims itself to be – an “armchair pilgrimage” combining an excellent selection of photographs, description, pertinent scriptural passages, and meditations, presented in the general order that a typical pilgrim encounters the various sites.
Although historically far and away the foremost topic of Catholic religious travelogues has been the Holy Land, the modern explosion of popularity enjoyed by the Camino de Santiago has resulted in the creation of a subgenre, a relative flood of books (as well as movies, although those seem mostly fictional) describing various individuals’ experiences on “their” Camino. Of course, one must, as in all things, exercise due caution in weeding through them. Not all are Catholic; some are overtly new-age pantheistic nonsense; some manage to be downright anti-Christian. As with those walking the Camino itself, the recent resurgence of St. James’ Way has brought many different types of people into the “Camino literature” fold, as can be seen by merely perusing the list entitled “Camino de Santiago” at GoodReads’ Listopia – which currently numbers 91 entries ranging from travel guides to travelogues to pilgrimage accounts to novels. Having done no more than a cursory survey to see what is available, I can make no informed assessments, suggestions, or even first-hand comments on individual items.
Similarly, for all the importance of pilgrimage to Rome through the centuries – and its unique centrality in the Christian Faith of my own particular area of scholarly interest, early Anglo-Saxon England (Bede makes reference to numerous Englishmen visiting Rome during the seventh and early eighth century; we know from his biographer Asser that in the mid-ninth century Alfred the Great as a very young child accompanied his father Athelwulf, king of Wessex, to Rome and, perhaps through a child’s misunderstanding, always considered himself to have been anointed by the Pope his father’s heir and successor) – there is a dearth of direct accounts of such, until recently. When I first encountered a number of books with some variation of “From Canterbury to Rome” in the title, I first took it to be a euphemism for a small flood of High Church Anglicans and Episcopalians availing themselves of Pope Benedict XVI’s establishment of the Anglican Use and Ordinariates as legitimate variants of the Roman Rite to return home to the Catholic Church. The phrase is not, however, a euphemism at all; it refers instead to a literal journey, a modern revival of one of the other great medieval pilgrimage roads across Europe. The Via Francigena (Frankish Road) stretches in a relatively straight shot southeastward from Canterbury, across the Channel, thence across France, the Rhineland, and the Alps, through Italy, to Rome. Its traffic, most likely as a knock-on effect from the modern revival of the Camino, has similarly increased in recent years and generated several recent pilgrimage accounts. But, again, I have done no more than survey the available literature to see what is available regarding Catholic pilgrimage to Rome. My impression from that cursory survey is, however, that like the growth in Camino “pilgrimage,” some portion of Via Francigena “pilgrimage” is not really.
In the case of all the pilgrimage accounts I did find, both ancient and modern, most are mere records, perhaps enhanced with the writer’s observations, even meditations. They may be used to get a “feel” for the pilgrimage, but – and this needs to be clear – I am not suggesting that simply reading about any pilgrimage destination or another individual’s pilgrimage has in and of itself in any way the spiritual quality of a pilgrimage. It can, perhaps, but only in so far as it is used prayerfully, as inspiration for meditation on the awesome mysteries of our Salvation. And, even so, creating a “vicarious pilgrimage” with its attendant graces per se may or may not have been the purpose of the various authors in writing. The only one I would say for certain aspires to do so is Fr. Pacwa’s The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage.
With one interesting exception: Of particular interest among the editions included in the late nineteenth-century Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society’s publication program are the works of Felix Fabri, a fifteenth-century Swiss Dominican friar. In the 1480s, Fabri undertook two pilgrimages to Jerusalem and one to St. Catherine’s on Mount Sinai, which he recounted in several versions and different languages for different readerships – first, the Gereimtes Pilgerbüchlein (Rhymed Pilgrim Booklet) a rhymed vernacular High German poem in epic form for his noble patron; then, the Pilgerbuch (Pilgrim Book) a prose account in the Swabian-German vernacular for other lay benefactors; and, finally, the expansive Latin Evagatorium (Wandering Forth) for his fellow clerics. Then, in the 1490s, at the request of cloistered nuns whom Fabri served as spiritual director, he created a fourth vernacular version, Die Sionpilger (The Zion Pilgrim), which Kathryne Beebe characterizes as:
… a pilgrimage account with a difference: it was meant as a virtual pilgrimage – a work that took its readers on a spiritual journey to the holy land that they could not themselves make in person. Drawing upon both the Pilgerbuch and the Evagatorium, Fabri fashioned the Sionpilger into a meditative text that also incorporated details of a real voyage.
Writing in the Journal of Religion & Society, Michael Xiarhos elaborates:
The nuns’ request included detailed travel logs, day to day rituals, description of shrines, and physical challenges so they could fully participate in the pilgrimage in a metaphysical or spiritual way. They wished to be there in the most real way possible, not just read about another pilgrim’s experience; they wanted to use the experience to help create a different but still authentic pilgrim road. The result of this request was that by 1495, Fabri produced […] the Sionpilger, which provided what the nuns requested for mental pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, and even Santiago de Compostela.
In contrast to earlier memoirs and descriptive travelogues, Die Sionpilger was explicitly intended to create a sense on the part of Fabri’s cloistered readers that they were being included in the pilgrimage that he had accomplished. Or, putting bluntly what Xiarhos intimates, and Beebe states merely in passing: Fabri conceptually created, in the fifteenth century, a Virtual Pilgrimage.
As a child of the 1960s who came of age in the 1980s, I have experienced how the advent of the personal computer and then the Internet has transformed the world and how we interact with it. What began as fancy adding machines, later becoming fancy typewriters, suddenly became in the 1990s fancy libraries giving fingertip access to a flood of information retrieval and sharing – that by the 2000s with the advent of blogging, vlogging, and social networking have led to … … Well, no one really knows, now, do they? The social consequences of the current information revolution thus far have been mixed, to be sure, and are fundamentally unknown and unknowable, unpredictable, as the rate of change seems to accelerate. But we do know this, that the information network linking potentially every corner of the world has resulted in an abundance of resources available to any individual anywhere wishing to experience just about any place in the world to one degree of virtual reality or another. Webcams set up in churches from Europe to North America allow one to “attend” Mass in the Extraordinary Form from Fribourg, Warrington, Sarasota, and Guadalajara. Google Earth and Google Street View enable one to “walk” the very streets of Jerusalem from the Lions’ Gate to the Holy Sepulcher, following the Via Dolorosa Station by Station. The means have arisen for something akin to an authentic, multimedia, virtual pilgrimage to take place from the comfort of one’s favorite chair. There are many resources available on the Internet for “virtual” pilgrimage, inspiring a new field of scholarly study and debate regarding the validity of such “pilgrimages.”
Predictably, at this point, there is no perfect consensus on what precisely the term “virtual pilgrimage” even means. Can it be, as Beebe and Xiarhos suggest, as simple as any intensely immersive experience, even one gained through reading words on a page as composed by Fabri for his nuns? Conceptually, they obviously believe so. In the fifteenth century – even as late as the nineteenth century – text-based “reading pilgrimage” was all that was available, perhaps supplemented with drawings, maps, and the like. With the advent of photography this became more refined, but it was a difference in quality, not essence. The appearance of motion picture technology by the twentieth century, however, began a convergence toward a certain degree of verisimilitude followed by the advent of the Internet and the real-time information sharing possibilities described above. Ultimately, in the modern context, “reading pilgrimage” is in no way what people think of when the subject of “virtual pilgrimage” is raised.
At present, a range of options are available. Several years ago – from the timing of an Internet article (15 September 2015) describing it as happening “last year,” about the same time as my pilgrimage to Italy – a priest in Philadelphia led a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Camino, and Fatima. For the benefit of parishioners who could not join the rigorous pilgrimage for health or other reasons, he put together what one of those parishioners called a “virtual pilgrimage.” To quote the article:
Our pastor invited everyone who was interested, including those who were not traveling, to a series of prepilgrimage meetings, where he talked about the route and other information about the trip.
He made and distributed pilgrimage guides to each of us. The guides gave a day-by-day explanation of where the tour would go and what was on the agenda. Also included in the guides was space for personal journaling, associated prayers and thoughts about saintly sites and church history, along with resources in case you wanted to learn more.
When the pilgrims embarked on their trip, Father Tom Welbers, our pastor, also provided us all (travelers and armchair pilgrims) with email addresses for one another. Throughout the pilgrimage, those of us who stayed home exchanged emails with those on the physical journey. On a blog, Father Tom wrote journal-like posts that told of the experiences and insights gleaned along the way.
Although I did not have the “real” experience of site tours, candlelit processions or Masses celebrated in faith-drenched locales, I was blessed by my virtual pilgrimage in many ways that still resonate with me.
For example, I did not know each pilgrim before the event, but got to know many new fellow parishioners throughout the experience – new friends who are still very present in my life. I enjoyed the structure of following along with the journey of faith that accompanied the time-sensitive itinerary. It was a refreshing departure from my usual devotions.
The author goes on to describe how she subsequently made use of “other online sources that provide similar, or even more enhanced, virtual pilgrimage experiences,” and gives a few cursory suggestions on how to find those resources.
I took special note of the approximate concurrence of the Philadelphia pilgrimage as a physical pilgrimage with a virtual component via email and blog posts with my pilgrimage to Italy in the fall of 2014 because such is very much what I envisioned for the benefit of my students, albeit for historical rather than religious reasons. As described in Chapter One, the result fell quite short of my intention, at least at the time, as the physical realities of the pilgrim’s way, even today, quickly made it clear that full-on, “real-time” (or at least daily) posts of fully fleshed-out narrative and illustrations were beyond me as a simple pilgrim. By the time of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land four years later, I had developed a more manageable tactic of posting “placeholder” entries each day, containing bare description of what places we visited, what sights we saw on that day, accompanied by a few select pictures, that I could then over a couple of weeks after returning home flesh out into a fully narrated and illustrated record. I have continued that blog, which ultimately gave birth to this book, to the present day, and have every intention of adding to it in the future when God willing, I intend to make more pilgrimages. I have, however, come to accept that such placeholder posts are all I am capable of as an individual balancing the realities of travel with the ideal of my ambition.
Although there are myriad travel blogs to be found with a simple Internet search, specifically Catholic, specifically pilgrimage-oriented, blogs seem to be rare. One problem is the metaphor that life in this world is properly a pilgrimage to the next. Just because a website has “Catholic” and “pilgrim” in it does not mean that it is a blog about “Catholic pilgrimage” – e.g., catholicpilgrim.net, where Amy Thomas “get[s] to talk about the beauty and truth of Catholicism” – in general. “We are all on a journey in this life….” Or they turn out to be influenced heavily by eastern forms of spirituality in a general religious enthusiasm that manifests in essential religious indifferentism. Or they are relics of initiatives that barely got going before dying a lingering death of neglect, such as one associated with the Catholic pilgrimage broker, The Catholic Traveler, whose director several years ago set up a shell within his web site to organize and post records of all his past (and implicitly future) pilgrimages, of which only a few ended up populated with more than destination and date. Although his business appears to be a continuing enterprise, even the list of “past pilgrimages” does not extend past 2016. With one exception, I have not found a single active Catholic pilgrimage blog to recommend – besides my own, of course, which probably does not appear in any kind of Internet search because of an ill-chosen, in no way evocative, name surviving from when I first conceived it. 
The exception is part of Catholic evangelist Steve Ray’s overall website, Defenders of the Catholic Faith [https://www.catholicconvert.com]. A former Baptist, Ray has since his conversion in the 1990s maintained a vigorous schedule of event appearances in a wide variety of venues, blogging, posting articles, publishing books of Catholic apologetics, creating high-quality video series, maintaining an extensive online collection of resources – and leading pilgrimages via his associated pilgrimage brokering web site, Footprints of God Pilgrimages [https://www.footprintsofgodpilgrimages.com]. He and his wife, Janet, have conducted well over a hundred pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and a good number to just about every other major Catholic pilgrimage destination there is – Italy, France, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Fatima/Santiago/Lourdes, and so forth. Finally, at least for the past few years, he has shared those pilgrimages with the world. From the moment their plane touches down to the day they depart, Ray (and doubtless an excellent production crew) documents almost everything in high-quality ten- to twenty-minute videos, sometimes with a separate video of the homily from the day’s Mass celebrated by the priest spiritual director accompanying the current pilgrimage. These appear daily on Ray’s blog, enabling anyone to “ride-along” with his pilgrimage from start to finish. I know this from experience. Recall that part of my process of discerning whether I was indeed called to undertake my own August 2018 pilgrimage to the Holy Land was watching Ray’s then-current (April 2018) pilgrimage – a nine-day pilgrimage perfectly coinciding with the nine days I was praying a novena for guidance. By day nine, although I did receive the sign from God that I asked for right at the end, I must admit that some part of my final decision was also heavily influenced by the virtual pilgrimage experience I found in Ray’s videos.
Such is probably not exactly the way Ray envisioned his blog being used – essentially promoting someone to make a pilgrimage with another broker! – but I would like to believe he would not begrudge me that, either.
At some point after Ray’s pilgrimage ends, a compilation video appears as well, usually totaling a couple of hours in length, presumably edited and cleaned up a bit, but allowing someone to watch a completed pilgrimage from start to finish, uninterrupted even by the need to find and start the next day’s video. I have watched some of those as well. Clicking on the “Past Pilgrimages” link opens a substantial library of virtual pilgrimages free for the watching. It is probably the next to closest thing an “armchair pilgrim” can experience to accompanying a “real,” guided pilgrimage. The closest thing, I would say, would be doing what I did – following the daily videos as they appear, knowing that you are virtually sharing in activities that occurred only a few hours before.
Ray’s virtual pilgrimages appear first in the form of a daily blog, then in the library/archive as both the collection of blog posts and videos and the compilation video. They form a record of his pilgrimage leadership. Are there other such resources out there, not blog-based as are Ray’s, but affording virtual access to individual sites in a more á la carte manner? Of course, there are. Here is a wonderful portal to numerous such virtual pilgrimages:
Catholic Pilgrimage Sites [https://catholicpilgrimagesites.wordpress.com/virtual-tours-e-pilgrimages/]
Besides offering the lists of sites by state and by country for which I referenced this website in the previous chapter, under ‘Virtual Tours & Pilgrimages,” there appear links to many different sites, mostly around Italy and the United States. In addition, there is a thematic virtual pilgrimage to the sites of Eucharistic miracles around the world and an associated virtual museum. The collection is credited to and stands as a legacy of Carlo Acutis, “a 15-year-old Italian boy who died in 2006 of leukemia and whose cause is under consideration for Sainthood.” He was declared Venerable in July 2018. My only caveat regarding this site is that I am not sure it is being maintained. Although the link to “Holy Doors of Mercy” maintains the links while noting that the Jubilee Year of Mercy ended on 20 November 2016, it refers to an associated page of “Relics and Events” that appears to have gone without an update since March 2018.
As to specific pilgrimage destinations, the easiest and most obvious thing to do is search for “[LOCATION] virtual tour” or “pilgrimage,” e.g., “Holy Land virtual tour.” This can be done either in a general Internet search or specifically on YouTube. Either search may produce interesting results. On the Internet, they might be well-indexed and curated pages with multimedia presentations of all the significant sights in 360° panoramic views, inside and outside. The web site for the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC, has such, as noticed in the previous chapter. They may be simple galleries of photographs. They may be anything in between. Some are highly structured, leading the viewer along a set route, with or without narration. Others allow the virtual pilgrim to wander the site at will. Some might be enhanced with nice, soft, meditative music in the background. Others … well, unfortunately, the music choices can be pretty bad, as well. It is a matter of taste, of course – and that is what the volume control is for. In addition to the virtual walkthroughs “following the blue lines,” Google Maps allows users to post photographs and “Photo Spheres,” which can be a lot of fun to explore; they are generally marked by blue dots when in “Street View” mode. On YouTube, walkthroughs of important sites posted by individual pilgrims are too many to count, basically just raw smartphone or camcorder footage; there are far fewer genuinely polished videos or collections of videos of the quality exhibited by Steve Ray’s.
The best thing to do is just start exploring. The possibilities are so endless and changing, expanding all the time (and, unfortunately, contracting as well, as links go dead – all the time), and the criteria by which to judge them so subjective, that I hesitate to call attention to any specific one. Nevertheless, I do:
Holy Land Virtual Reality Tour & 360 Degree Jerusalem 3D Tour [https://www.p4panorama.com/panos/HOLYLAND/index.html], accessed 16 September 2019.
“Visit Holy Land & Jerusalem online and walk around as if you are actually there. One click to start the virtual tour of Holy Land & 360° Jerusalem 3D tour.”
This site offers several dozen high-resolution static panoramic “scenes” in which the viewer can move back and forth, up and down, or just let the page slowly pan around and move to the next. Starting on Mount Nebo overlooking the Holy Land, facing a plaque showing what major sights are visible and in what direction, the sequence then takes you to the Greek Orthodox church at Madaba, to the Dead Sea, to Bethlehem, and so forth. Labeled icons allow you to break off to the next view, the previous view, or to select other views depending on where you are. A dropdown menu at the top allows selection of any site in the sequence (and always indicates the current view), which can also be accomplished by accessing a still photo gallery at the top left. Controls at the bottom allow entry into “VR mode” if you are viewing on a mobile phone (and presumably if you have the VR headset), volume control, access to a map, sharing, full screen, and an informational popup describing the scene. Occasional icons pop up short YouTube videos affording that type of controlled panoramic view of given scenes. You can even frame and take photos, which you can then share to Facebook, etc. – “Wish you were here! (Wish I was there!);” I do not think there is any way to download that photo, however – and it has a prominent “Holy Land 360°” watermark on it anyway. This site has its quirks – the Shepherds’ Field scene has what I presume to be gently falling snow on a bright, sunny day!; and the music throughout is … well, this is the one I was thinking of a couple of paragraphs ago! Also, a bit annoying is that I can figure out no way to remove the labeled icon allowing you to jump to the next scene, and it often appears in a very distracting location. But the main control bar can be hidden (and easily retrieved) at the bottom of the screen. All in all, this is a very nice virtual tour.
Is it a pilgrimage, however? Is even the most immersive multimedia Virtual Reality “cyber pilgrimage” really that? Michael Xiarhos considers that question in his article, “Authenticity and the Cyber pilgrim,” cited here a couple of times already. His formal conclusion is a tentative, “Virtual faith practice is an evolving and hugely complex issue.” For sure. His clear intimation is, however, “Yes!” I base that inference on the general tone of the latter half of his eleven-page article, the centerpiece of which is an account of “Pope John Paul II: The Virtual Pilgrim,” which bears quotation in full:
Pope John Paul II’s 2000 Holy Land pilgrimage is a prime example of the validity of online-virtual pilgrimage. Rather than seeing virtual pilgrimage as the easy way or a mere convenience to the somewhat partially committed pilgrim, Pope John Paull II illustrated that the virtual pilgrim may operate from a place of deep devotion and desire for spiritual connection and ultimately hopes for a chance at a transcendent experience.
Originally, the Pope intended on making a chronological biblical pilgrimage, starting with the holy city of Ur, considered by many biblical experts to be the city mentioned in the book of Genesis as the birth place of the patriarch Abraham. The Pope, recognizing the importance of Abraham as the “model of unconditional submission to the will of God,” (Stanley)[] and as a shared prophet and source of unity between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, wanted his journey to begin at the beginning. From there the Holy Father would travel to Egypt to pray atop Mount Sinai where the Bible says God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses, then he would move on to Israel and Palestine. As devout as his intentions were, secular realities and complex international politics trumped his desire for spiritual transcendence.
Lengthy discussions between the Pope and the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, eventually broke down and the Pope was denied admission into the country. So strong was the Pope’s desire to begin his pilgrimage in Ur that he organized a virtual visit in an effort to make his biblical chronology more authentic. Using large screens, the Vatican broadcast images of various holy sites creating a virtual travelogue which included desert scenes, paintings, and churches. The Pope ritualized the virtual pilgrimage by offering prayer and incense poured in a copper pot signifying the sacrifice of Isaac. The Pope may not have been physically there in Turner and Turner’s understanding, [] but the spiritual meaning and power of this constructed event offered an experience the Pope identified as “pilgrimage.” It would be difficult to argue that the Pope’s virtual pilgrimage was any less an act of devotion because it took a stationary form; he was focused, present, and engaged in the experience, separated from the profane distractions of normality. This mentality continued as he then made his way physically to other significant locations.
I certainly would not argue that the now sainted Pope’s “virtual pilgrimage” was not “an act of devotion,” but I would argue that, regardless of the degree to which he was “focused, present, and engaged in the experience, separated from the profane distractions of normality,” or even if the Holy Father himself referred to the experience as a “pilgrimage,” he was not truly on a “pilgrimage,” or at least on the same kind of “pilgrimage” as he would have experienced had not the international situation precluded his going to Ur – which was, it must be recalled, his first intention.
The mere fact that we feel the need to qualify such experiences as “virtual” – or Xiarhos’ “cyber” – indicates to me an instinctive recognition of these “pilgrimages” as qualitatively different. I am not just being reactionary here. In the Introduction of this book, I set out to define “pilgrimage” and what it means for Catholics. Central to my definition was what I called “the power of place” in the distinctive, incarnational, sacramental world view of Catholicism. I used the Holy Eucharist as an example. It is in that Most Blessed Sacrament that I find support for my position regarding pilgrimage. From Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation of 22 February 2007:
[W]ith regard to the value of taking part in Mass via the communications media, those who hear or view these broadcasts should be aware that, under normal circumstances, they do not fulfil the obligation of attending Mass. Visual images can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it. While it is most praiseworthy that the elderly and the sick participate in Sunday Mass through radio and television, the same cannot be said of those who think that such broadcasts dispense them from going to church and sharing in the eucharistic assembly in the living Church.
And even if there might be extraordinary circumstances under which an individual might fulfill the obligation of attending Mass via synchronous audio or video broadcast, one would hardly say that they would or could by such means receive the actual Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Eucharist. They might make a Spiritual Communion. But it is not the same. Ours is an Incarnational Faith. Matter matters. “Visual images” – and by extension, any other type of sensory input – “can represent reality, but they do not actually reproduce it.”
Along the same lines, to my knowledge (and this might change at any time, of course, as Holy Mother Church considers, in her mercy, the intersection of “virtual reality” and pilgrimage), only one so-called “virtual pilgrimage” carries with it any sort of indulgence. Briefly, as per the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins of a person whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.
Although certain pilgrimage destinations, through the mercy of the Church, have been offered to the faithful as “indulgenced,” meaning a devout visit by a faithful Christian of due disposition carries with it an indulgence (as, for instance, passing through a designated Holy Door at any cathedral or basilica during the recent Jubilee Year of Mercy 2016), the act of pilgrimage in and of itself does not. And, in fact, the “virtual pilgrimage” that does (at the time of this writing) carry with it an indulgence is not what I would typically even consider an act of “pilgrimage” of any sort.
According to another link at the aforementioned index of Catholic Pilgrimage Sites [https://catholicpilgrimagesites.wordpress.com/indulgences/], in addition to a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes France before 15 July 2020 gaining an indulgence, experiencing what is known as a Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage with the North American Lourdes Volunteers also gains an indulgence. According to the informational page of their website [https://lourdesvolunteers.org/what-is-a-virtual-pilgrimage/], “Virtual Pilgrimage Experience™ re-creates a pilgrimage to Lourdes without ever leaving home. This prayerful experience draws pilgrims nearer to God in the company of Our Lady as they are guided through a prayerful visit to the Grotto, the experience of the water, prayer in a Rosary procession and a Eucharistic blessing.” An on-line article describing the program at one host church gives more information on specifics. It includes a presentation on the apparitions to St. Bernadette and the opportunity to touch a rock from the grotto where Our Lady appeared in addition to blessing with water from the spring that she revealed to the saint. In itself, that sounds much more like a relic tour or perhaps a home visit from one of the Pilgrim Statues of Our Lady of Fatima than a “pilgrimage,” although I can easily see the conceptual connection of any of these with the idea of “pilgrimage.” Any of these can be a blessing to the properly disposed.
Nevertheless, just as “it is most praiseworthy that the elderly and the sick participate in [virtual] Sunday Mass through radio and television,” it stands to reason that the devotional use of “virtual pilgrimage” through all means discussed so far in this chapter, and doubtless through means that I cannot even imagine at present, by those who are correctly disposed can be a deeply spiritual experience. In drawing the distinction, I do not mean to discourage someone from utilizing any such resources they have available that enhance their connection with God, especially if a virtual pilgrimage is the only pilgrimage they can manage. But I also believe the distinction must be made. A “virtual” pilgrimage is not a “real” pilgrimage.
Besides reading about pilgrimage destinations and other pilgrims’ experiences, besides vicariously participating in virtual pilgrimage, two common Catholic devotions are intrinsically quasi-pilgrimage in nature – and arguably attain a higher level of spiritual equivalence to pilgrimage than either reading or virtual pilgrimage. One explicitly has its origin in perhaps the most common activity undertaken by almost every Christian pilgrim to Jerusalem, from the very beginning – walking the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross.
According to tradition and mystics, the Blessed Mother would, after Jesus’ Ascension, devotionally follow the path he had walked from his condemnation to his death. According to visionary Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, when the Beloved Disciple to whom Jesus had entrusted his Mother from the Cross took her with him to live near Ephesus, she set up a garden path, setting up stones on which she inscribed markings to represent the various important stages of the Way. It is unknown if there is any continuity between the putative practices of the Virgin Mary and those of later ages. We do know that public processions to the various spots identified, rightly or wrongly, with the various events of the Passion were in practice very soon after the Emperor Constantine’s legalization of Christianity and establishment of churches in Jerusalem, as attested for the fourth century by early pilgrims such as Egeria as well as by the Church Father St. Jerome. Nevertheless, the Stations of the Cross that we all know today are a product of much later, during the centuries after the Franciscans established their presence in the Holy Land and began managing the visits of European pilgrims to Jerusalem. In the seventeenth century the practice arose of erecting memorials of those Franciscan Stations from Jerusalem in churches outside the Holy Land, and the Pope extended the indulgences attendant on making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and walking the Via Dolorosa to those memorials, making them available to the faithful who use them to devoutly meditate on Our Lord’s Passion. So, praying the Stations of the Cross is quite literally participation in the Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The indulgence attached to the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross has been maintained in the 1968 revision to the Enchiridion of Indulgences (n. 63).
Although its origin is less explicitly grounded in the place of the events it commemorates than are the Stations of the Cross, the Holy Rosary can easily be considered a pilgrimage following the Life of Christ. To make a long story short, the Rosary, in its traditional form, originated in the ancient ascetical practice of reciting the 150 Psalms in order. From memory. Which is an amazing feat that says a lot about the ability of our pre-literate ancestors to retain information in a way and to a degree that more literate ages such as our own have sadly lost. Such a prodigious feat of memorization was, nevertheless, beyond the ability of many or most persons even then. Early on, therefore, the practice arose of substituting 150 Paters, and later 150 Ave Marias, prayed on 150 pebbles or beads – in a bag, or more conveniently strung together. One-hundred-fifty Ave Marias prayed in such manner in place of the psalms came to be called “Our Lady’s Psalter.” Over time, the traditional form of the Rosary appeared (associated with St. Dominic, who reportedly received it directly from Our Lady herself in the thirteenth century), with fifteen groups of ten Ave Marias punctuated by a Pater, during which were meditated one of fifteen crucial events in the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Exaltation of Our Lord, considered from the perspective of Our Lady – Fifteen “Mysteries”: Five Joyous, Five Sorrowful, and Five Glorious. Pope John Paul II’s addition of Five “Luminous” Mysteries late in his pontificate broke the connection with the Psalter by adding fifty additional Ave Marias but not the connection with the events of Our Lord’s life as considered by Our Lady. With a single exception, each can be associated with one of the Holy Places one can visit as a pilgrim:
The Five Joyous Mysteries
The Annunciation – The Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth
The Visitation – The Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem
The Nativity – The Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem
The Presentation – The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
The Finding in the Temple – The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
The Five Luminous Mysteries
The Baptism in the Jordan – The Jordan River
The Wedding at Cana – The Catholic Wedding Chapel, Cana
The Preaching of the Kingdom – The Church of the Beatitudes, Galilee
The Transfiguration – The Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Galilee
The Gift of the Eucharist – The Cenacle on Mount Zion, Jerusalem
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries
The Agony in the Garden – The Basilica of the Agony, i.e., the Church of All Nations, the Mount of Olives
The Scourging at the Pillar – The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
The Crowning with Thorns – The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
The Carrying of the Cross – The Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord – The Golgotha Chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
The Five Glorious Mysteries
The Resurrection – The Edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
The Ascension – The Chapel of the Ascension, the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
The Sending of the Holy Spirit – The Cenacle on Mount Zion, Jerusalem
The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven – The Church of the Dormition on Mount Zion, Jerusalem
The Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven – The Empyrean Heaven….
I can say that being able to recall these places from personal experience, to visualize and put myself back in them, dramatically enhances my meditations on the associated Mysteries of the Rosary – which are also powerfully indulgenced. So do my memories of walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem whenever I pray the Stations of the Cross in my home parish. A semblance of those experiences for the Holy Land as well as other destinations might well be gained through media unavailable to our fathers’ generations; that semblance is, however, merely a semblance. The most polished, realistic, networked media by themselves create no more than a “reality” that remains merely “virtual,” which only imperfectly if at all conveys the actual graces of pilgrimage. Such graces are, on the other hand, available to all through these simple, sacramental devotionals bearing indulgences bestowed by the Church through the Authority of the Vicar of Christ out of her Treasury of Merits. I would go so far as to say that a devoutly prayed Rosary or Way of the Cross is more virtually a pilgrimage than any “virtual pilgrimage.”
+ + +
Now, having read that, you’re probably thinking, “But you’re saying a ‘virtual pilgrimage’ is not a ‘real’ pilgrimage at all!” And so I am. It is not the same, no more than is ‘attending Mass’ as I’ve been doing every morning this week via one of the hundreds or thousands of live-streamed Masses that have exploded onto the Internet in the past week or so is the same as being there in person, or praying an Act of Spiritual Communion (as I’ve been doing) the same as receiving the physical Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord in Holy Communion from the hands of my priest. It is not the same – but these are not normal times and we must do what we can. Prayerfully watching a live-streamed Mass and making a Spiritual Communion are arguably the next best thing. And, just so, perhaps I cannot make a real pilgrimage in the current situation, but there are plenty of resources to do the next best thing, whether through reading (and my book provides not just one but three detailed narratives!), through the Internet, or (as the chapter concludes) through the power of prayer.
We may be confined to our homes, but the world is literally at our finger tips. So, I say, take this opportunity to make a virtual pilgrimage.
Thanks for reading!
 Of mysterious origin, with no modern consensus exactly what it comprised, this is most commonly supposed to have been a church going back to a Judaeo-Christian synagogue-church of the late 1st-c., known as the “Church of the Apostles,” later rebuilt as a Byzantine basilica under the name Hagia Sion (“Holy Zion”) and called the “Mother of All Churches.” It is said to have “covered the entire area now occupied by the Church of the Dormition, the Cenacle and the Tomb of David” – See The Holy Land s.v. “Mount Zion” [https://www.seetheholyland.net/mount-zion/], accessed 26 November 2019. See also Wikipedia, s.v. “Church of Zion, Jerusalem,” accessed same date.
 https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/35717.Camino_de_Santiago . Accessed 14 September 2019.
 Kathryne Beebe, Pilgrim & Preacher: The Audiences and Observant Spirituality of Friar Felix Fabri (1437/8-1502) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 3-4.
 Michael Xiarhos, “Authenticity and the Cyber Pilgrim,” Journal of Religion & Society 18 (2016): 1-11; quotation from p. 4.
 Among that scholarship is the aforementioned Michael Xiarhos, “Authenticity and the Cyber Pilgrim,” Journal of Religion & Society 7 (2016): 1-18; also, Mark W. MacWilliams, “Virtual Pilgrimages on the Internet,” Religion 32.4 (October 2002): 315-335.
 Maureen Pratt, “Can’t travel to explore your faith? Try a virtual pilgrimage,” Catholic News Service (15 September 2015), posted at Catholic Philly.com under “Commentaries” [http://catholicphilly.com/2015/09/commentaries/cant-travel-to-explore-your-faith-try-a-virtual-pilgrimage/].
 Google Search snippet, accessed 16 September 2019.
 Xiarhos, “Authenticity,” p. 10.
 Alexandria Stanley, “Pope Makes Virtual Visit to Iraqi Site He Must Skip,” New York Times (24 February 2000) [http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/24/world/pope-makes-virtual-visit-to-iraqi-site-he-must-skip.html]. – Citation defined on Xiarhos, “Authenticity,” p. 11.
 Victor Turner and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978). Kindle edition. Citation defined at Xiarhos, p. 11. Xiarhos had opened his article with a brief discussion of Turner and Turner’s conception of pilgrimage as a physical act (pp. 1-2).
 Xiarhos, “Authenticity,” pp. 6-7.
 Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity, Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission) (22 February 2007), 57 [http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis.html] Accessed 20 September 2019.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1471.
 Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, trans. Sir Michael Pelairet (London: Catholic Way Publishing, 2013), 18: 3, Kindle edition at 75%.
 The Enchiridion of Indulgences: Norms and Practices. Authorized English Edition. Issued by the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, 1968. Formatted into electronic text 02 June 1998 [https://www.freecatholicebooks.com/books/indulgences.pdf], accessed 20 September 2019.
 The Highest Heaven. Originating in ancient cosmology for the place of the pure and eternal fire or aether in Aristotle’s natural philosophy, medieval Christian philosophers used the term of the dwelling place of God and the highest of the angels. See Wikipedia s.v. “Empyrean.” It is the Presence of God, the place of the Beatific Vision which is the goal of every believer, the ultimate destination of every Christian pilgrim.
 Enchiridion of Indulgences, n. 48.