What a journey its been! Back in 2012, my wife Pata and our daughter Paris went on a family holiday to Rome. I remember standing in St Peter’s Basilica thinking of all the people back home that we know who would love to be standing there with us. Then, through Divine Inspiration I’m sure, I thought, “Well bring them!”
So it began. When we returned to New Zealand, I immediately began sowing seeds about a possible group trip to Europe. The notion of a pilgrimage didn’t quite manifest itself until a considerable time later.
I set about the task of organising the itinerary and the logistical elements for the journey. It was then that I realised that this has to be more than just a trip or a holiday. The idea of pilgrimage then began to take root. Our journey to Rome, took on a brand new meaning. We would be pilgrims.
The word “pilgrim” comes from the Latin word “peregrinus”, which means “foreigner” or “stranger.” This word comes from per, meaning “through,” and ager, meaning “land.”
A pilgrim, then, is one who travels across or beyond his or her own land to enter an unknown landscape where the pilgrim is a stranger. As a stranger, the pilgrim can begin to see anew what can be missed easily in a landscape too familiar. God is present everywhere, but in the familiar we can sometimes miss what is right before our eyes.
Our first pilgrimage in 2013, set off from Otara as a group of nine. As a pilgrimage leader, I was still very much “green” about what a good pilgrimage leader should do and be. But armed with an unshakeable trust in God and with total reliance on him, I felt that this is what He was asking of me.
Our first pilgrims held a long desire to make this journey, some of them, from even before I was born! God, I felt, was using me, as “green” as I was, as a way of answering their prayers.
Our 2013 pilgrimage was a graced time for all of us, yet I was already thinking about the next pilgrimage even before the first one was over. Almost immediately after our return, I began working on the next pilgrimage.
Using the experience of our first pilgrimage, I was better equipped for the next. This has been true of each of the pilgrimages. It’s almost like Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, who at the end of each Olympic Games would declare, “These have been the best games ever!”. For me, I would say that of each pilgrimage.
As I write this, we are only 18 days away from beginning the 2016 Pilgrimage. When we return 21 days later, I’m sure I will be able to exclaim, “This has been the best pilgrimage ever!”