Thursday, September 24, 2015
The Peril of Pilgrimage
Many years ago my travel agent mother won a pair of tickets for a flight to Britain, so off we went. While visiting the National Art Gallery we came upon an exhibition of pilgrimage badges or pins. In medieval times Christians would go on long walks to holy sites, and the rather bawdy and entertaining Canterbury Tales in a fictional account of an unlikely group of pilgrims on their journey. The badges were a memento of a completed pilgrimage.
People continue to embark on pilgrimages of various kinds and for many different reasons. Christians go to Lourdes, or walk the Camino in Spain. We have a friend who is currently on his third Camino walk, each having been a different route. Our son Isaac walked 800 kilometres of the Camino when he was nineteen. The medieval badge pictured above is a scallop shell symbolizing the Camino.
Hindus undertake pilgrimages, often arduous, and one of the five pillars of Islamic practice is the haj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. Up to two million pilgrims descend on Mecca every year, and the sheer volume of people make this pilgrimage a dangerous enterprise.
Early this morning we heard that 150 pilgrims had been trampled to death, then the figure was revised to over three hundred, and the death toll has risen to more than 700 with over 800 injured. Pilgrimages always have inherent dangers, everything from health issues to robbery to threats of violence.. A young woman was murdered in Spain recently while walking the Camino, even though her route is usually quite safe. Sadly, the deaths in Mecca are not the first. A few years ago 1400 people died in a similar incident, and there have been others.
We can pray for the situation in Mecca, and ponder the challenges of pilgrimage. They are undertaken because they aren't necessarily safe. There is both spiritual and physical challenge and uncertainty. But what a loss of life.
Would you ever consider undertaking a pilgrimage of some kind? Have you engaged in any sort of pilgrimage, formal or informal? What sets a pilgrimage apart from a hike or a tourist trip?