Going on a pilgrimage is a long established tradition among Catholics. Whether out of a sense of devotion, penance, adventure, or any other number of reasons, a journey to a sacred site often opens one’s eyes and heart to the reality of our loving and ever-present God. Being on pilgrimage gives us the opportunity to be open to the Spirit and encounter Jesus in those we meet. Recently, I had the blessing of backpacking for three weeks in Central America, starting out in Guatemala and passing through to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua before arriving in Costa Rica. Though I wasn’t journeying to a particular religious site, I still felt that I was on pilgrimage because I trusted that God would bless me along the way with people and events that would help deepen my relationship with God. And indeed, God delivered and I can honestly say I felt that I met Jesus in many people in some of the most unexpected places.
Travelling to five countries in just three weeks meant I was on the road a lot and usually only had a day or two in each hostel before moving on. The amazing sites – ancient Mayan ruins and cloud rainforests among others – were complimented by the wonderful people I met along the way. Since I was travelling alone, being open and friendly to my fellow travellers was one of the few ways I could change an otherwise lonely dinner into a night of companionship and sharing. In other words, it was by being open to those God placed in my path that I was able to add depth and meaning to my trip.
Being on pilgrimage is a way that I would also describe my time at CTU. I am an Associate (or candidate) with the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), and I moved to Chicago from Toronto at the start of the spring semester at CTU earlier this year. Coming from a multicultural city like Toronto, there wasn’t much of a culture shock for me to be in the ethnically diverse environment of CTU. The challenge, however, was filling the void left from being far away from family and friends. Just as I had to be open during my backpacking pilgrimage to the people God put in my path, I had to be open to those around me in my SVD community, in my classes and CTU in general, and in Chicago as a whole. By being open and friendly to those I met, I was able to add depth and meaning to my time as an Associate with the SVDs and as a first-year student at CTU.
Throughout my backpacking travels and my first semester at CTU, the thought of being on pilgrimage kept coming back to me. True, in most of those instances I wasn’t headed towards a particular sacred site; yet, I certainly was and continue to be on a journey, one that I make with great trust in God, looking out for the ways in which God will bless me, whether through people I encounter or events that pass my way. As I journey on my current pilgrimage with the SVDs, I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up: I’m continuing my discernment, open to the possibility that God is calling me to continue with the SVDs or to walk a different path. In any case, I know that by trusting in God and being open to the Spirit, I will encounter Jesus along the way and thus grow in my relationship with the loving God Who has made this all possible.