Why pilgrimages are becoming ever more popular in these uncertain times

In its most basic sense, a pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey toward a specific destination of significance. It is an inherently transient experience, removing the participant from his or her home environment and identity. The means or motivations in undertaking a pilgrimage might vary, but the act, however performed, blends the physical and the spiritual into a unified experience.

The reasons for undertaking a pilgrimage are many and varies – it might be the fulfilment of a vow, as atonement for sins, as a gesture of thanks for positive events, or as a means of intercession.

Deliberately visiting powerful sites is a practice that predates antiquity, but in Christian pilgrimage tradition, the practice revolves around visiting either sites significant in the Bible – particularly those concerning the life of Christ – or in the lives of saints, or paying reverence to holy relics.

Although the 12th century is largely considered to have been the golden age of Christian pilgrimage, it remained a devotional practice throughout the following centuries, and is once again becoming a highly popular and rewarding experience. This is especially so in a time when many people are looking for an experience more deep and meaningful than a conventional holiday break can offer.

While on pilgrimage you are away from the problems and stresses of every day life. You are able to concentrate fully on the worship of God.

Two of the most popular European pilgrimage destinations over the past 12 months have been Lisieux and Fatima, where many thousands of pilgrims have gathered to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thérèse Martin – St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Born on 2nd January 1873, Thérèse became a Discalced Carmelite nun and lived until the age of 24 in the cloistered Carmelite convent of Lisieux, in French Normandy. Both UNESCO and the Vatican have declared 2023/4 as a year of celebration and commemoration for this very special and devout saint, who brief life and writings have left us with a remarkable and powerful connection to God’s love and forgiveness.

For those who have still yet to visit Lisieux or Fatima the Carmelite Friars of Chilswell Priory, Oxford are running a special accompanied pilgrimage visiting both centres from 8th-14th May.

“In celebrating the centenary of St. Therese of Lisieux, we are making this journey in the praise of God’s glory. The God who formed His little daughter into a replica of his masterpiece, Mary Immaculate,” says Fr Fr. Alexander Ezechukwu OCD, Prior at Chilswell.

“At age six Therese wrote, “I want to be a very good girl. The Blessed Virgin is my dear Mother and little children usually resemble their mother.” Therese became, as it were, a reflection of the Blessed Virgin by her perfect imitation of her virtues. It is pre­cisely Mary’s hidden virtues, living the “yes” of Mary in her ordinary life at Nazareth, which are echoed in the life and writings of St. Therese,” said Fr Alex.

“During this pilgrimage with St. Therese we will explore her singular devotion to Mary. Pondering on her beautiful poem, “why I Love you O Mary”, we will discover a renewed love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayerfully journey to Our Lady’s Shrine in Fatima where we’ll renew our love and devotion to her.”

Led by Fr Liam Finnerty, OCD and Fr Kelvin Ekhoegbe, OCD, the pilgrimage includes three night in Lisieux and three nights in Fatima, including daily Masses and candlit procession, as well as breakfast and dinner and return flight.


Other Carmelite pilgrimages for 2024 include:

Retreat Pilgrimage to Segovia with St John of the Cross – 17th-23rd April

Retreat pilgrimage to Ávila with St Teresa of Ávila – 10th 16th October

Retreat Pilgrimage to Mount Carmel, Israel with Our Lady of Mount Carmel – 16th-27th December





Pictured: La Basilique Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux/ www.normandie-tourisme.fr