Derry’s Diocesan Youth Co-ordinator Lizzie Rea.
Lough Derg. Lourdes. Knock. Medjugorje. The Holy Land.
Chances are if you’ve been reading a parish bulletin over the last few weeks, you’ll have spotted a notice about getting involved in a trip to one of these destinations.
Pilgrimage has always been a popular method for practising Catholics to demonstrate their devotion, but with the church’s declining influence and a society obsessed with convenience, are they still relevant?
Derry’s Diocesan Youth Co-ordinator Lizzie Rea feels they are.
“A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place or shrine and usually entails a spiritual programme whilst in attendance," she said in an interview with the County Derry Post. "Normally people go with parish groups or organised groups.
“We live in an increasingly secular environment but there is a still a massive response to faith and pilgrimages are very popular especially for young people.
“For example, we have 550 students receiving their Pope John Paul II Award in February.
"We also have 25 young people signed up to come on pilgrimage in July for the youth Festival of Medjugorje.”
Pilgrimage plays a key role in the Pope John Paul II Award, which originated in Derry.
The award was created by Fr Paul Farren in his role as director of the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre and has been
running successfully since 2006 in schools throughout Ireland and the UK.
“The idea of taking time out to reflect and dedicate time in our lives to prayer is something that Catholics hold in great respect.”
Lizzie feels embarking on a pilgrimage can inspire people to dedicate their life to helping others through their faith and explains how her own personal experience has led her to her current role.
“I have travelled to Lourdes from a very young age to help with the sick and found that it has had a massive impact on my life and my decision to work in youth ministry.
"The sense of community and prayer being at the heart of all pilgrimages has had a great impact on many young people.”
Many view a pilgrimage as a journey but it can also be an opportunity to take a break from the stress and pressure of an increasingly relentless society.
“I personally think people choose to go on pilgrimage because it is an escape from everyday life," said Lizzie.
"Being on pilgrimage can make more of an impact on people’s faith whilst being away with other people that are also involved with their faith.”
“We just have to look at the life of Jesus when he took 40 days in the dessert to reflect and pray to God.
"We as Catholics can look at pilgrimage in this light as well.”
One of the major attractions of going on pilgrimage is a feeling of shared experience, says Lizzie.
“Pilgrimages are a great way of meeting others like you from across the world.
"Think of the diverse groups of people who attend these shrines from all over the world.
“We have different languages and cultures but are all one in the same place doing the same thing - giving thanks and praying to God.”
While the religious aspect of any pilgrimage is key for those involved, the sense of community and shared interest is no doubt the hook that ensures that bulletins will continue to carry notices of pilgrimage for some time yet.
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