Pilgrimages and the Jewish Community 

Reaffirming Commitment

The pilgrimage festivals allowed the Jewish community a chance to reaffirm their devotion to the covenant with God, enhance the nation’s awareness of itself as a religious community, and keep Jerusalem and the Temple site sacred. These occurrences unite people. Some academics think Jerusalem’s “business” community at the time of the Bible supported the obligation to go to Jerusalem and stay there for the whole holiday, which benefited from the regular flow of pilgrims looking for food, accommodation, and animals to sacrifice.

In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, pilgrimage festivals were a major social and religious institution. They transported ancient Mediterranean Jews to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jews made pilgrimages annually. This included raising animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market, a complicated banking system, and hundreds of inns and taverns to lodge pilgrims.

Historical Pilgrimages

King Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea, erected a vast plaza around the Temple to accommodate travelers. This increased the Temple’s space, allowing thousands more pilgrims to attend religious activities. The Harem esh-Sharif in Jerusalem is built on Herodian Temple ruins. The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque are here. The Western Wall, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall,” supports the Herodian Temple’s courtyard. An historical rabbinic remembrance of the Temple’s heyday tells that even when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims crowded into the courtyard, no one complained about the crush.

The Romans demolished the Second Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. The pilgrimage festivals continued, although largely in synagogues. Since 2,000 years ago, pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem halted, although these holidays are still dubbed “pilgrimage festivals” Historical and agricultural themes have replaced animal sacrifices in Diaspora festivities. Many Israelis make a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, all that’s left of the Temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They do this because they believe it honors our Temple-era forebears.


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Passover – Commemorating the Exodus 

Remembering the Exodus

Passover commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt and their emancipation as a nation under Moses’ leadership. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as told in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. According to traditional biblical chronology, this event occurred around 1300 BCE. Passover is a spring celebration that offers the “first fruits of the barley” during the Temple’s existence in Jerusalem, the first grain to ripen and be harvested in the Land of Israel.

Passover begins on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. It lasts seven days (in Israel and for Reform Jews and other progressive Jews worldwide who follow the Biblical mandate) or eight days (for Orthodox, Hasidic, and most Conservative Jews) (in the diaspora). In Judaism, a day begins at sundown and ends at nightfall the next day; hence, the first day of Passover begins after dusk on the 14th of Nisan and finishes at dusk on the 15th of Nisan. When the sunset of Nisan arrives, the traditions peculiar to Passover begin with the Passover Seder. Passover is observed in the Northern Hemisphere in spring, as the Torah prescribes: “in the month of [the] spring.” It is one of the most frequently observed Jewish festivals.

What happened then

The Bible says that God assisted the Children of Israel to escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues on the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh would free his Israelite slaves; the tenth and deadliest of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian firstborn.

The Israelites were ordered to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a killed spring lamb, and when the spirit of the Lord saw this, he knew to pass over the firstborn in these households, hence the holiday’s English name.

When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they were in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, no leavened bread is eaten during Passover, which is why Passover is called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah. Thus matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and is a holiday tradition.

Passover, together with Shavuot and Sukkot, is one of the Three Trip Festivals (Shalosh Regalim), during which the entire kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.


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The Three Pilgrimages  

The Pilgrimage Festival

The pilgrimage festival is an important type of Jewisessential. In the Hebrew Bible, these three holidays are called “agricultural festivals” and “historical events in the history of the Jewish people.” In biblical times, these three holidays were also when people went to the old Temple in Jerusalem. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are the names of these three holidays.

Three holidays

God told the Israelites in the Old Testament, “All your men shall appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place that God will choose, on the festivals of Pesah (Passover), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot.” This place was probably the Temple in Jerusalem (the Festival of Booths). They will show up with nothing. Each person will bring a gift that fits the blessings the Lord your God has given you. In this passage, God says that he wants all male Israelites to go to Jerusalem (which is why these festivals are called “pilgrimages”) and have the priest offer the animal sacrifice required for each of them. In this passage, the Torah only talks about men.

This is because, in the past, women did not have the same legal or religious standing as men. Even though this was left out, women had the same religious and spiritual duties as men when it came to making sacrifices for thanksgiving and making up for their sins. When Israel finally moved into the land, God wanted to constantly remind them that they were passing through this world and that He, not the ground, was their proper inheritance. So, the Lord made Jerusalem the place where he was most present on earth and told them to go there three times a year to worship him at thanksgiving feasts like the Passover. Jesus’ public ministry happens against the backdrop of these frequent journeys. The Holy City was already very holy, but Christ’s blood made it even more sacred for all time.

The Three Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals are: 

  • Passover – Celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, as well as the beginning of the new planting season after the winter rains in Israel, since it falls in the early spring. 

  • Shavuot – Biblically, this is solely an agricultural celebration. Falling exactly seven weeks after Passover, which places it occurs at the time of the late spring harvest.  [Shavuot as a celebration of the giving of the Torah is a post-biblical development.] 

  • Sukkot – Celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection. This also celebrates the last harvest festival before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. It falls five days after Yom Kippur, usually in mid-autumn. At the conclusion of Sukkot, the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated.


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Literal Pilgrimages

 “We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God.” 

Dallas Willard 


Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

John 14:6 NRSV 

As a Literary Theme

The subject of pilgrimage is talked about in many of the writings that make up the Christian Bible. It’s a complex idea that includes things like a journey, being sent away, living as a pilgrim or sojourner, and looking for a home.
The Book of Genesis, which is part of the Old Testament and comes from Judaism, tells the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden after they disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This story is central to how Christians think about pilgrimage.
It turns out that the Fall of Adam and Eve had a lot of effects. Sin means that they and their descendants must live as exiles on a harsh and unfriendly planet, away from God and each other. Cain, Adam and Eve’s oldest son, kills his younger brother Abel out of jealousy when God says that Abel’s gift to God is better than his own. God sends Cain further away from his home and family as a punishment.

Old Testament Models

Several Old Testament trips had spiritual connotations. Abraham’s trip and the Exodus from Egypt highlight how crucial it is to believe and obey God.
Abraham, a significant figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, leaves his house to find a place God will show him. His determination to obey God makes him a “pilgrim” or “sojourner”
Israelites leave Egypt and travel through the wilderness to Canaan. They confront trials and God’s guidance.
The long trip through the desert to the Promised Land is a paradigm for the Christian’s trek from a damaged world to heaven. Over time, Jerusalem became a location to encounter God. All Israelite men had to travel to Jerusalem for Passover, Weeks, and Booths, and their families often accompanied them. Exile made travels to Jerusalem emotionally and spiritually vital.


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The Exodus Pattern 

The Exodus wasn’t the first biblical deliverance. Abram and Sarai traveled to Egypt during a famine, and the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his household for marrying Sarai. Pharaoh ordered Abram to leave when he realized Sarai was his wife, not his sister. This parallels the Ten Plagues God brought to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites.

This exodus pattern recurs throughout the Bible, from Lot’s flight from Sodom through Jacob’s stay with Laban. God delivers Israel from Egypt in Exodus, following the patriarchs.

Exodus has several connected stages

    • The people of God have to leave their homes because of a threat.
    • The Serpent tries to hurt the Woman and her offspring.
    • Misinformation is used to fool the Serpent.
    • God’s people are enslaved.
    • God helps his people while punishing those who hurt them.
    • God saves his people by stepping in.
    • The Serpent puts the blame on the good and accuses them.
    • God makes the false gods look bad.
    • The people of God leave with what their enemies have given them.
    • God brings his people to the Holy Land.
    • A place of worship is set up.

The Exodus Journey

During the escape, God revealed his covenant identity. God reveals himself via the exodus by revealing his name at the burning bush, sending plagues upon Egypt, revealing the Law at Sinai, and delivering his people. Exodus reveals God’s character and commitment to his people.

It’s as if God stamped his signature on a blank canvas labeled ‘Exodus’ before creating a masterpiece. Exodus proves God’s authority over other gods. God beats all the Egyptian gods in every aspect of creation. God exhibits his strength from the life-giving Nile to the heavenly sun. By the time the people reach Sinai, they’ve seen God’s constancy, compassion, might, infinite reach, and majesty. The Law begins by reminding Israel of God’s exodus labor.

Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, is fundamental to Israel’s identity.

The exodus inspires prophetic hope. The migration memorial is retroactive and foreshadows a future departure. Prophets like Isaiah used the exodus to foretell a future deliverance for God’s people. The exodus was a declaration of God’s good purpose for his people—that they might serve him without fear all their lives—and each celebration of the exodus looked forward to that day.


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The Pilgrimage of Moses to Freedom 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. 

Nelson Mandela 


For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

Galatians 5:1 NRSV 


Moses is famous in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, so many of us know his story. For discussion’s sake, though, and especially in the context of Prophetic Pilgrimages, it would be good to review the Exodus in a general way.

The Book of Exodus says that Moses was born at a time when his people, the Israelites, who were a small group of slaves, were growing in number, and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might join with Egypt’s enemies. No one cared about Joseph’s actions to save Egypt from the great famine. When the Pharaoh told all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed, Moses’ Hebrew mother, Jochebed, hid him. He did this because the Pharaoh wanted to reduce the number of Israelites.

Through the Pharaoh’s daughter, who the Midrash calls Queen Bithia, the child was taken in after being found in the Nile river and raised as part of the Egyptian royal family. She named the baby Moses, which means “drawn out of the water” in Hebrew and “son” in Egyptian. This was the first step in God’s plan to end 400 years of slavery for these people. Moses grew up in the palace of the pharaoh. There, he learned to read and write, which prepared him to write the first five books of the Bible. Even though he was happy in the palace, he longed to see his own people as he got older. When he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he hit the Egyptian and killed him.

The Start of Moses’ Journey

When the pharaoh found out that Moses had killed the man, he ordered to have Moses killed. Moses ran across the Red Sea to the land of Midian. When he got there, he found seven daughters coming to a well to get water for their father’s flock. Shepherds tried to get them to leave, but Moses stood up for them. After his daughters told him what had happened, he invited Moses to dinner and married off his daughter Zipporah. They had a son, and they named him Gershom, which means “stranger in a foreign land.” Moses became a shepherd in Midian.

One day, as he was taking care of his sheep on Mount Horeb, he met the Angel of the Lord, who spoke to him from a burning bush (which he regarded as the Mountain of God). He told Moses to go back to Egypt and lead his people there. Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and get the Israelites out of Egypt?” God replied, “I AM what I AM. “I AM has sent me to you,” tell the Israelites.

Going Back to Egypt

God told Moses to return to Egypt and ask for the Israelites to be freed from slavery. Moses said he couldn’t speak well, so God gave Moses’s brother Aaron the job of speaking for him. He returned to Egypt to do what God told him to do, but God made the Pharaoh say no. The Pharaoh finally gave in after God sent ten plagues to Egypt. Moreover, Moses led the Israelites to the border of Egypt, but once they were there, God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart again so that he could destroy the Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea Crossing as a sign of his power to Israel and the rest of the world.

No one in Pharaoh’s army made it out alive. When the Israelites saw the dead Egyptian soldiers on the beach and saw how powerful the Lord was against Egypt, they feared the Lord. They had faith in God and in Moses, who was his servant.

The Longest Journey

Finally, after Moses led the Israelites to victory over the Amalekites, who were thought to be the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, Moses led the Israelites on the Exodus, a forty-year journey to freedom. This was to be the end of Abraham’s long journey to the Promised Land, which had begun many years before. During the Exodus, the Lord made it clear that He was the God of the Israelites. He said, “I will make you my own people, and I will be your God.” Then you will know that I am your God, the Lord, who saved you from slavery in Egypt.”


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A Prototype for Faith

An Example of Faith

Abraham was told to leave what he knew best and trust that God would show him a different way. Everyone who comes to God in faith is called to turn away from old ways of living and follow God. God calls us to a commitment to leave sin behind and not return.

Abraham knew where he came from because he was a pilgrim. He left the Chaldean city of Ur with his father, nephew, wife, children, and whatever else he could carry. Furthermore, he left a place where people worshipped things that were not gods. Astrology, superstitions, and honoring a moon goddess have done every day. Even though it would make sense for Abraham to feel sad about leaving his home country, however, he was leaving a spiritual wasteland.

As he walked around Canaan, he would be a stranger in a strange land. His religion was not the same as the native Canaanites’ religion. He didn’t have the same morals as those in Canaan. The people of Canaan didn’t understand why he lived. He lived in tents and never tried to build a house or live in a city. Even though he got along well with the Canaanites, did honest and fair business with them, and was known for his hospitality, he didn’t try to be like them and become one of them. He was happy to be a nomad who moved around and lived in tents and small booths. His family did this for about a hundred years.

Pilgrims move around from one place to the next.

His faith in what God had promised kept him going and helped him be happy. He looked past this life to a city in heaven. He didn’t have to be tied down to this life because of the vision. With his mind on the city in heaven, he was happy to live as a stranger in a tent. He knew God would give him a better inheritance than anything in this sinful world.  The Bible says that Abraham and other men and women of faith were “seeking a country of their own… a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

Despite not receiving the promise during their lifetimes, they all remained faithful until death. The security of God made them willing to walk around for the rest of their lives. Eventually, they could always go back home because they had their sights set on a better country than the one they were in or had left.

Pilgrims move around from one place to the next. What do we do? We are strangers and travelers on this earth when we become God’s children and citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Like Abraham was said to “dwell in tents,” we understand that even our physical bodies are temporary dwelling places for our spirits.

God is proud of people who keep their faith even when they don’t get what they were promised.

Pilgrims have a place they want to go. Abraham first went to Canaan. Later, when he got there, he kept going to keep looking for the city in heaven. Our pilgrimage today calls us to a life of purity and holiness. Like the English pilgrims who helped settle our country, our language, dress, manner of living, and purpose should be different from that of the world. Following live and act by faith so that, like Abraham, God will one day be happy to acknowledge us in the same way that He did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

On their way, pilgrims sometimes end up in places where people are hostile. As believers, we now live in a land that doesn’t respect our faith and doesn’t want what our hearts desire. We long for the peace and comfort of our Father’s home. The saints are going to a beautiful city in the sky. Abraham was happy to think about where he was going. It was everything to him and helped him get through the trip. We are headed for the same city Abraham sought, built by the hand of God, eternal, in the heavens, reserved for us.

God is proud of people who keep their faith even when they don’t get what they were promised. Moreover, This is because God has something better planned for all of us so that only with us would they be perfect.

As Abraham traveled worldwide, the Lord was his best travel companion. He was with him every step of the way. He liked being close to God and sharing with him. Abraham is an excellent example of a man who lived his whole life based on his faith.



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A Pilgrimage Requires Sacrifice

A Sacrifice

Stepping out in faith carried its risks. Abraham had to leave everything safe and comfortable about his home in Haran. At 75 years old, he had to travel thousands of miles to a land where he would be known only as a foreigner—being a pilgrim required of Abraham a sacrifice: a sacrifice of time, safety, comfort, identity, and control.  Abraham was no longer dictating his life; he surrendered power to God by choosing the pilgrim’s life. 

Action and Pilgrimage

Abraham’s faith is impressive.  It was more than just mental agreement or sentiment. He obeyed God. The intensity and level of Abraham’s faith are described in the manner of his obedience.  

First, Abraham obeyed immediately:  He responded to God’s call to leave his home in Ur, of the Chaldees.  His instant obedience stands out against those who rationalize and procrastinate out of doing what God clearly demands. 

Second, he obeyed, not knowing where he was going: He believed God would give him what was best for him. He had confidence in Jehovah’s words, which were enough for him. 

The Destination

Although he left with the firm promise of an inheritance of land, he did not immediately receive it. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never owned the land God promised. Similarly, they all died before the promise was fulfilled. More so, the Bible indicates that the only property in Canaan that Abraham ever owned was the small parcel of land he used to bury Sarah, his wife.

Abraham seemed to have a keen sense of what made a sacred place. In an era where there were no shrines, Abraham set up his own: 

“The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring, I will give this land.” So he [Abram] built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. From there, he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”

In any place where Abraham sought or had a profound experience of God, he set up a shrine and an altar. Moreover, the pilgrimage was not for him just about the destination, but he was constantly paying attention to where he experienced God on the journey. Sometimes when we travel, we forget that every moment and every place has the potential to be holy.  And so, we get so caught up in our expectations of what we will experience at our goal that we do not recognize or mark the places along the way that are equally holy. It is not popularity that makes a place holy – only the presence of God can do that. 

Throughout the rest of his life, Abraham was a wanderer. Because there was nothing else constant in his life, Abraham had to cling to his faith in God. Moreover, he was a resident alien: the world was not his home. Also, he lived detached from his permanent residence in anticipation of a better place. Just as Abraham’s faith is a prototype of what God expects of us, we are called to live as sojourners. 



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The Pilgrimage of Abraham to the Promised Land

“I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 


“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest, and will give you this land.’ 

Joshua 1:13 NRSV 

Abraham, formerly Abram, is the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions. In Judaism, he is regarded as the founding father of the covenant of the pieces, the special relationship between the Jewish people and God; in Christianity, he is regarded as the prototype of all believers, Jewish or Gentile; and in Islam, he is viewed as a link in the chain of prophets that begins with Adam and ends with Muhammad.

Abraham’s Pilgrimage

In the book of Genesis, we find the story of how the Lord told Abram to make a pilgrimage to the Promised Land: 

 The Lord told Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you. 

I will make you into a great nation 

and I will bless you 

I will make your name great, 

and you will be a blessing, 

I will bless those who bless you, 

and whoever curses you, I will curse, 

and all peoples on earth 

will be blessed through you.” 

            So Abram left, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.  He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan and arrived there. 

The Foreigner

The term “pilgrimage” derives from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “resident alien” or “foreigner” and can also indicate “to journey over a long distance.” When we think about pilgrimage in the Bible, the first person that comes to mind is Abraham. His pilgrimage was uncommon in modern terms. Most of the holy locations had not yet earned their holy reputations. He lived before most of the world’s main religions were created and was the founder of Judaism. There were no prominent shrines to visit or saints to revere.

Abraham also brought his entire family and everything he owned. He did this because, unlike the modern pilgrim, he had no intention of returning from his journey.



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Journeying with a Purpose 


            “Pilgrim” comes from the Latin peregrinum, which means “wanderer” It’s a voyage to honor God. Christian pilgrimage is ancient. Once the temple was erected in Jerusalem (ca. 957 B.C. ), all Jewish men were required to attend it for the three major feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavu’ot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles, or Festival of Ingathering), per God’s command in Deuteronomy 16:16-17. On the walk to the Temple, they sang “pilgrim hymns,” Psalms 119-133. Jews still call these feasts “Pilgrimage Festivals” Pagans also perform the pilgrimage. When they worshipped local gods, as in ancient Greece and Rome, pre-Columbian Central and South America, certain portions of old Europe, and the ancient Middle East (Palestine, Syria, and Israel), followers would journey to the god’s shrine to beg for favors, forgiveness, or other religious motives.

The Focus of the Christian Pilgrimage

Our focus is Christian pilgrimage. After the death and resurrection of the Incarnate God and the development of Christianity, Christians yearned to follow in the footsteps of their Savior, His Holy Mother, and His Apostles. Even when millions of Christians were killed for their Faith, the faithful visited the tombs of favored saints, sometimes at the risk of being martyred themselves. Their motivations? They were similar to the pagans, but they knew that they glorified God Himself by honoring God’s saints. Some pilgrimages were made in penance for sin, petitioning for a special blessing, and out of devotion.

As expected, a Christian’s most incredible journey was to the Holy Land. Far from Christian Europe, the trek was intimidating. First, it took years. It was expensive and risky. The highways were full of robbers and killers, and there were brutal deserts to cross. Many pilgrims were hurt or killed. When the traveler returned home, he knew he’d received numerous graces. As penance for sin, religious beliefs require pilgrimages. The sinner had to trek barefoot and in tatters, never staying more than one night in one area, and beg for food along the way. This was no fancy journey to Rome or Jerusalem with air-conditioned accommodations and local food. It was a huge sacrifice that looked terrible in our eyes.


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The True Pilgrimage

Misconception: a pilgrimage is a religious holiday. Pilgrims trek toward God. As we are, we come to God. We contribute our doubts, defects, crises, illnesses, curiosity, adventure, faith, thanksgiving, and Pilgrimage intentions and prayers.

On a Pilgrimage, we meet God in His manifestations.

If you want luxury, perfection, or a vacation, skip the pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a called from God, not a “vacation” from commitments. As Jesus’ disciples, it reminds us of our faith. On a Pilgrimage, we meet God in His manifestations.

Pilgrims want peace with a loved one or in the world, but they know they must first achieve peace with God.

This can be tough since it involves tiring travel or hard terrain. Every step is important, however difficult. Pilgrimage is a journey to God. Every step on your Pilgrimage will bring you higher consciousness and God awareness. It brings us closer to our faith via honest, focused prayer. We go on Pilgrimages to change, and it happens. Pilgrimage focuses on an intention, desire, or problem-solving. A pilgrim goes to deepen his trust in God. Pilgrims want peace with a loved one or in the world, but they know they must first achieve peace with God. By leaving their daily lives and beginning a Pilgrimage, many Pilgrims meet God and calm, returning with renewed faith and eternal transformation.

A successful pilgrimage means leaving care behind and focusing on God.

While modern Pilgrims have more pleasant travel alternatives, the goal of Pilgrimage remains the same. A pilgrimage to a Holy, Sacred spot brings them into God’s presence. The pilgrim must have cheerful expectations, a desire to temporarily escape from the world, and a willingness to serve others in humility. A successful pilgrimage means leaving care behind and focusing on God.

Pilgrimages are ancient. Such travels are performed as acts of devotion, penance, or thanksgiving in quest of benefits or miracles. Pilgrimage transcends ideology and religion. Muslim law mandates all devoted and able Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Muhammad’s birthplace; Hindus consider bathing in the Ganges sacred; and Christian pilgrims travel considerable distances to worship spots in the Holy Land hallowed by Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles.

Spiritual preparation is needed to obtain the desired frame of mind.

Pilgrimages became popular after Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity, sanctioned the faith throughout the Roman Empire, and established new goals to retrieve key Sacred Christian relics and artifacts. He and his mother Helena became influential Pilgrims after discovering Christ’s tomb, the Holy Sepulcher, and the True Cross. By the fourth century, pilgrimages to the Holy Land were common despite the danger.

As Rome became the center of Christian devotion, it became a popular pilgrimage destination, as did Greece and Egypt. By the Middle Ages, churches and cathedrals housing relics of the Holy Family, Apostles, and early Saints expanded the appeal of pilgrimage.

Preparation is key for a successful pilgrimage. This is especially true for group pilgrimages to the Holy Land, since time is limited and much of it is dedicated to a prearranged schedule. Spiritual preparation is needed to obtain the desired frame of mind.

Christian pilgrims might prepare by reading related Scripture passages.

Christian pilgrims might prepare by reading related Scripture passages. Whether or not the trip is once-in-a-lifetime, the pilgrim should enjoy it. Such an experience can provide spiritual sustenance, more faith, soul-searching and discernment, new resolutions and strengthened commitments, and pleasure, enjoyment, and new friendships.


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The Cost of Pilgrimages 

“A journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled is less important than the experience gained.” 

Ernest Kurtz 


Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 

John 18:36 NRSV 

 The Holy Family as Pilgrims 

Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents, would make annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Let us look at a specific text from the Gospel of Luke that demonstrates the many costs of pilgrimage in this chapter:

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. 

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve, they went to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.

Jewish men were obligated to attend three feasts every year throughout the Gospels. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were observed, albeit only Passover was strictly kept. Those who lived far from Jerusalem, particularly the poor, could not attend all feasts. On the other hand, women and children were permitted to participate in these feasts, and on Passover, everyone celebrated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Pilgrims would stay for at least two days and occasionally longer.

Counting the Cost

The first expense of pilgrimage revealed by this verse is the time commitment required to be a pilgrim. According to the Gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary traveled yearly to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. This suggests that going on the pilgrimage was not done on the spur of the moment. Before embarking on the voyage, one must arrange and organize one’s affairs at home.

The second expense of pilgrimage mentioned by the Gospel of Luke is time, which states that once they had completed the days and returned from Jerusalem, the boy Jesus remained behind. This statement of ‘days’ implies that pilgrims had to spend at least two days in Jerusalem, staying for the night before returning home the next day. Taking more than a day off from work would have had significant financial ramifications during a time when people were surviving daily.

Travel is the third cost of pilgrimage in the Gospel of Luke. The chapter explains that after the family had completed all the things needed by the Lord’s law, they returned from Jerusalem to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. Even today, the drive from Nazareth to Jerusalem is 91 miles (146 kilometers). Every pilgrimage would be a round trip, which would double the distance. This was a considerable voyage that was not taken lightly, requiring a significant investment of time and resources. Pilgrimages are always associated with long treks, and Biblical expeditions were no different.


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