I was reading an article from the 1911 The Catholic Encyclopedia on pilgrimages and was interested to see that pilgrimages have existed from the very beginning. There’s evidence to show that people have always made special trips to locations connected with their faith, and their reasons have ranged from praying and asking for certain favors, to fulfilling a penance or punishment, to simply visiting holy ground.
I didn’t see mention of my reason for the pilgrimages I’ve made annually for the last several years, though I’m sure others have done so for the same reason: Gratitude.
I started my blog five years ago last month and chose St. Anne as its patroness not long after (or rather, she chose me!). When my first blogaversary was approaching, I was so full of gratitude for being allowed to have such a lovely little spot on the internet and for having connected with so many wonderful people that I wanted to do something to say “thank you” to God for His goodness and generosity to me, and to St. Anne for her intercession. I wondered if there might be a St. Anne shrine near me somewhere, and was delighted to discover that there are several, so the idea of a pilgrimage began forming in my mind.
One of the marks of a pilgrimage is “suffering,” whether because of the distance traveled, the cost, the clothes a pilgrim wears, or the manner in which a pilgrim reaches his or her destination (as on one’s knees). The suffering of pilgrimages can range from mere inconvenience to pain and major difficulty. Since at that time I had six boys who were aged ten and under and taking trips was something we never, ever did because of how very hard it was, I would put my idea of a day trip to the shrine nearly three hours away as achieving a “pain and major difficulty” rating. We made it as easy as we possibly could, and it still provided a lot for us to offer up. When we got home late that night, I really felt like I had done it — I had made my offering of thanksgiving.
Each year since, we’ve taken a trip to a different St. Anne shrine in order to thank her for her continuing intercession, and I hope we can do so as family for a long time to come. If you like the idea of a family pilgrimage but you are, like I was and continue to be to a certain degree, overwhelmed at the idea of doing so with small children, these tips might be helpful.
Stay close to home
I think many people think of faraway holy places like Rome, the Holy Land, Fatima, and Lourdes, when they think of pilgrimage destinations, but you can absolutely make a pilgrimage closer to home. Are there any notable holy sites near you? Or any churches or shrines dedicated to a particular saint that you have a devotion to? Staying closer to home saves on transportation costs (less gas, no planes), cost of food (you can bring food from home for a picnic meal), and accommodations (no need for a hotel). You can likely work with your little ones’ nap and feeding schedules more easily, you don’t have to bring days’ worth of diapers, and you can go to sleep that night in your own bed.
Have modest goals
Some pilgrimage sites are famous for the way their pilgrims come barefoot, or on their knees, as part of a penitential visit. Others involve a lot of walking or hiking to reach the pilgrimage destination. Some people might like to include fasting and almsgiving as part of their pilgrimage. Those are not the kinds of pilgrimages I would be able to do with small children. When my family and I go to a St. Anne shrine, my goals are these: to attend Mass, to light a candle for my intentions, to go to the gift shop, to take photos to share with my blog readers, and to say our family Rosary during the drive to and/or from the destination. These give me a good framework for our trip and help us to keep the point of it top of mind. I’m not always able to achieve all of these goals on each trip (the Mass time might just be impossible for us, they might not have candles or a gift shop, etc.), but the effort is there.
Trust that God will help you have a fruitful trip
There’s not much a mom of a young family has to do to find suffering on a pilgrimage—there’s always sacrifice and penance when traveling with little ones! Merely making it to the pilgrimage destination and back again can be more than enough. But as my kids have gotten older, traveling has gotten easier, and I’ve noticed that as that’s happened, God has thrown us some curve balls during our trips that have given them an extra pilgrimage-y edge. Like when my ten-year-old vomited all over himself and the van on the several-hour ride to the site, and I didn’t have a change of clothes for him (who would? For a ten-year-old? On a day trip?). Like when there was an extra-hot heat wave and no air conditioning in the tiny chapel for daily Mass and I was in my third trimester with baby no. 7. Like when we upgraded from day trips to overnights and the hotel closed its pool for cleaning the one night we were staying there. I really don’t think you have to worry about making the trip too hard — God will make sure you’ve got enough to offer up.
I would love to know if any of you who have young children have brought your family on a pilgrimage, and if so, where did you go? What advice would you add to what I’ve offered here?
Copyright 2019 Kate Towne