What Does The Bible Say About Pilgrimage?
Contribution: Suzanna Joseph
There are countless citations in the Bible regarding the importance of pilgrimage. It is a journey people often take to a place of religious significance. Either a physical journey or an individual’s journey of faith. The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
With reference to this Saint Paul wrote, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:8-9)
Under the guidance of Moses Israelis’ journey into the Promised Land is also considered as a pilgrimage.
“Three times a year, then, all your males shall appear before the Lord, your God, in the place which he will choose: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, and at the feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
As reflected in the Bible the Church was central to the religious life of Israel and also of the Faithfull’s love and devotion.
“I think of you upon my bed, I remember you through the watches of the night (Psalm 63:7)
For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble. He will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)
‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the Lord’s house.” And now we are here, standing inside the gates of Jerusalem! Jerusalem is a city restored in beautiful order and harmony. This is where the tribes come, the tribes of Israel, to give thanks to the Lord according to his command.’ (Psalms 122:1-4)
Song of Ascents is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms from Psalm 120–134. Since the city of Jerusalem was located on a mountain, the Jews had to climb to get to Jerusalem.
According to prophet Micah “In days to come the mount of the Lord’s house. Shall be established as the highest mountain; it shall be raised above the hills, and peoples shall stream to it: Many nations shall come, and say, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob. That he may instruct us in his ways, that we may walk in his paths.”For from Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Since then the mountain was considered sacred (2 Samuel 16:1-12). Later during the reign of king Solomon the ark of the covenant was taken to mount Moriah and was known as Zion (Isaiah 8:18, Joel 3:17, Micah:4:7). The Jews happily sang the psalms on their annual pilgrimage.
When the Jews were in captivity in Babylon they were sad for Zion. They wept at the memory of Zion on its canals. The captives of the Jews told them to sing one of the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:3). However, the Jews did not want to sing to them since they were deprived of the pilgrimage and missed it immensely.
Pilgrimage in the New Testament
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”(Matthew 2:2)
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way. (Matthew 2:11)
‘Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover ,and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.’ (Luke 2:41-42)
Pilgrimage in the Early Christians
The 12 apostles dispersed throughout the world for evangelization after the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension. All of the apostles were martyred except Saint John. After Saint John’s martyrdom the Christian followers began visiting their tombs annually. For instance, Saint Peter and Saint Paul have tombs in Rome. Saint Jacob the apostle’s tomb is in Spain. Saint Thomas’ tomb is in Mylapur India.
By travelling to these tombs the faithful would pay homage and show their love and devotion to the apostles and saints.
Saint Polycarp was the disciple of Saint John the apostle and Bishop of Smyrna. After his martyrdom the Christians of Smyrna sent a letter to the surrounding Christians explaining the importance of pilgrimage. Every year they gathered at Saint Polycarp’s tomb to celebrate the day of his martyrdom with victory and joy.
Visiting the Holy Land
In the year 313 when Christians were given the freedom to practice their religion they started visiting the Holy Land. They paid homage to Christ’s birthplace, the place of his crucifixion, the tomb where he was kept for a while. In short, the faithful visited all the places that reminded them of Christ’s earthly life especially during the Lenten days.
Visiting the Holy Mary
Special places in the Catholic Church have been given the status of pilgrimage to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most popularly known with the status of shrines are Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal. Approximately 2 million people gather in Guadalupe, around 6 million in Lourdes and 5.3 million gather in Fatima shrine. As Marian apparitions occurred in these places, they became historically significant.
Since all Christians cannot afford to visit Mexico, France and Portugal, in some countries national shrines have been declared. In Pakistan Mariamabad has been declared as national shrine by Pakistan Catholic Bishop Conference. Every year in the month of September the pilgrims visit the shrine to pay homage to Mother Mary and are blessed.
(This article was first published in takistan.com.pk)