|October 5, 2004||
Vol. 2, No. 22
Gemma Tulud Cruz is a doctoral student in feminist theology at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I dare say Francis of Assisi would have told us not to fix our gaze on his tomb but to look for him among the living. Francis would have re-directed our gaze to that young mother with her baby outside the beautiful basilica built in honor of him, to that teenager by the steps of San Pietro, and to that young man going around the tables of the Il Duomo restaurant -- all begging for a living.
In the footsteps of pilgrims
By Gemma Tulud Cruz
ASSISI, Italy -- A recent break from my studies took me on an extraordinary journey: a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome in Italy. I have made other pilgrimages both inside and outside my home country, but this one evoked in me a deep reflection on the meaning of pilgrimages. Maybe because my former pilgrimages were short or perfunctory or because I accompanied either my friends or family, I was distracted from fully entering into a pilgrim's journey. Whatever the reason, going through this six-day journey made me see pilgrimages in a different way.
Amid the intermittent and terse demands for "Silencio!" in the Basilica de San Francesco and as people filled and milled around the church, the "tourist or pilgrim" question became a focus for personal reflection. Am I a pilgrim or a tourist? Am I seeing pilgrims or tourists?
Although this may not always be the case, tourists are marked by their cameras and by their tendency to look, take pictures and move on. Pilgrims take time to see and pray. Tourists hear the tour guide in a distracted way; pilgrims listen intently. Tourists store memories through photos and souvenirs. Pilgrims store memories through the heart. Tourists visit the nice and famous places. Pilgrims bother to go to even the ordinary and less-known places. Tourists will opt for the tour bus or the fastest and most comfortable means of traveling. Pilgrims will take the time to walk long distances and even climb mountains.
As I gazed at the waves of people filing past the tomb of Francis inside the basilica named after him, I could not help but think: What would Francis do and say in the midst of this reality? As I joined with hundreds of people traveling to Rome to attend a general audience with the pope and visit the city's grand churches and museums, I could not help but ask: What would Jesus say to us who come all the way to Italy to seek him through a pilgrimage?
A pilgrimage, I believe, is an interior journey and a way one can strengthen oneself for the actual Christian life journey. A pilgrimage is about journeying to the self so one can really be a co-pilgrim with and for others in imitation and witness to the pilgrim par excellence: Jesus of Nazareth.
In the end, I guess the real meaning and challenge of visiting holy places is how much we allow the spirit and the message of these places to touch us and be translated into our experience. At the end of the day, the wonder is not so much about how holy are the places we visit, but how much holier we make them by our presence and by our witnessing to their message to the contemporary world.
Like Jesus who exhorted the disciples not to look for him among the dead, in the cave, or in the tomb, I dare say Francis of Assisi would have told us not to fix our gaze on his tomb but to look for him among the living. I dare say Francis of Assisi would have re-directed our gaze to that young mother with her baby outside the beautiful basilica built in honor of him, to that teenager by the steps of San Pietro, and to that young man going around the tables of the Il Duomo restaurant -- all begging for a living.
As you prepare for your next pilgrimage, I would suggest you consider not so much the places you will visit nor the relics you will see but focus instead on how to make the most of the experience so that you are nourished by the pilgrimage and in turn become "bread for the journey" for your fellow pilgrims along the way.
In the end, the challenge remains: Are you a tourist or a pilgrim?
© 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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