Pilgrimage - Meaning and Purpose
Pilgrimages and Journeys to sacred places for religious motives are as old as civilizations. Such journeys have been made as acts of devotion for penance, thanksgiving or in search of blessings or miracles. A pilgrimage is a religious act. It is universal and quiet natural, for, every one requires God. In every heart there is a deep seated craving to meet God. Is not man a transcendental being? The Near East people carry a portion of their harvest to shrines to be offered to the gods in gratitude and homage. Muslim Law prescribes a pilgrimage to Mecca, for Hindus, a pilgrimage to Kasi to bathe in the sacred Ganges is a holy obligation.
Christians do under take journeys to sacred places and now a days pilgrimage to Holy Land fast becoming a fashionable trip. Hence this longing and the consequent pilgrimages are universal. The longing is ingrained in the human heart for God and the consequent pilgrimages to holy places are a universal phenomenon. It is urgent today to examine this phenomenon in terms of the origin, raison d’etre, and relevance for our times in the background of Bible and the tradition of the Church and state some orientations for a meaningful pilgrimage.
Muslim Law prescribes a pilgrimage to Mecca, for Hindus, a pilgrimage to Kasi to bathe in the sacred Ganges is a holy obligation. Christians do under take journeys to sacred places and now a days pilgrimage to Holy Land fast becoming a fashionable trip. Hence this longing and the consequent pilgrimages are universal. The longing is ingrained in the human heart for God and the consequent pilgrimages to holy places are a universal phenomenon. It is urgent today to examine this phenomenon in terms of the origin, raison d’etre, and relevance for our times in the background of Bible and the tradition of the Church and state some orientations for a meaningful pilgrimage.
In general, a pilgrimage is a journey made by the believers, to worship at a place consecrated by a unique manifestation of the divine or holiness of the religious personage or by some particular sacred memory in order to thank God or to seek favours from him. It is journey to special places with an implied belief that the special activity of God is manifest in certain places. These journeys are real and symbolic of man’s quest for God.
Pilgrimage in the Christian Tradition
In Christian thought, God is Spirit. It is believed that He does not dwell “on this mountain or in Jerusalem” but dwells in the community of believers that worships in Truth and Spirit. Never the less, Christians did not stop undertaking pilgrimages. The Church also accepted pilgrimages, taking into consideration their spiritual advantages. The Church believes that God blesses his people with various graces and gifts in the shrines that came up in honour of the Saints. With this belief she encourages pilgrimages.
Christian pilgrims, from early in the second century, travel great distances to venerate places in the Holy Land sanctified by the presence of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the apostles. The number of pilgrims increased in the fourth century, after Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and legalized the faith. He and his mother, Helena were themselves the most influential of pilgrims. The Historian Eusebius of Caesarea attributed to this Emperor, the discovery of Christ’s tomb, the holy sepulcher, and other accounts credit the mother of the emperor for finding the true cross.
Although travel was always difficult and perilous, pilgrimage by the end of the 4th century to the Holy Land was common. Rome, as it became the center of Christian faith became the pilgrimage destination, as did Greece and Egypt since the Apostles were there. By the middle ages, pilgrimages had become a significant part of Christian devotional life. The veneration of relics- particularly those that were of Christ’s passion is strong in pilgrimage. Holy objects other than relics also have give rise to many other popular shrines. In many countries, the statues of Mary are believed to be possessing miraculous powers and thus they have been flourishing as the centers of pilgrimages as is the case of the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, of Our Lady of Gaudalupe or the miraculous medal or of Velankanni in India. In many cases there has been the magestarial acknowledgement of this power. When the Shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni was raised to the status of Basilica the pontifical decree spoke of the miraculous power of the statue over there. It is also due to this faith, the devotees flock to the shrines at Gunadala, Vijayawada, or Visakhapuri Mary Matha at Ross Hill, Visakhapatnam.
It is our Christian theological stand that this life is a pilgrimage. The church also never failed to repeat this teaching. The Second Vatican Council called the Church, the community of people of God, as people on pilgrimage. It qualified the church as pilgrim Church. Christians as long as they live in this world are soujourners of heaven. With Christ we the believers in Christ, led by the Spirit, march to our Father’s Kingdom (GS no. 1). In this journey, we are strangers and aliens (LG.49), Citizens not of this world but of heaven (GS 13). Hence it is natural for the Church to consider herself in this world as the pilgrim (GS 6). So in Christian understanding pilgrimage is not physical and this worldly but it is a metaphysical and heaven oriented reality. All the simple pilgrimages that we undertake form part of this great pilgrimage to heaven. Through these simple pilgrimages we testify that our destination is heaven and that Christ is center of this pilgrimage.
A Shrine that offers Spiritual Experiences:
Hill Chapel is a “divine milieu”. There is an abiding presence of God in this campus. There is a spiritual power in the air, greenery, earth and surroundings of this environment. All those who enter these premises feel the soothing cool touch of the breeze, the fragrance of this blessed shrine and its holiness, the beauty of the nature and are elevated into uncommon heights that connect them to lasting Peace and Joy. Above all, they taste the love and affection of Mother Mary, and the mercy of the Lord Jesus. The ambience and the setting lift them into a spiritual realm that fills their hearts with the satisfaction of meeting the Lord. This Shrine compound inspires them with the purpose of life, fills their hearts with confidence and hope for a better tomorrow. For this reason innumerable devotees frequent this hollowed shrine.
The Spiritual Shelter for the devotees
The pilgrims visiting this Shrine are deprived of Peace and Joy in life. Their hearts are heavily laden with the sorrows and sufferings, problems and turmoils. They seek security and support. Interceded by Mary, in their meeting with the Lord of Life, the Son of Mary, they take back with them Peace and happiness, hope and confidence, inspiration and vision for a better life. Those that lost their life partners and are drowned in the sea of sorrow, spending time in the presence of Mary and experiencing her consolation, realize the further course of their life and get down the hill with more determination to continue with the life. The widowed, gather the scattered pieces of their broken lives, and fill their hearts with the Ross Hill Mother’s courage and revitalize themselves in her abode. The brethren saddened with the woes and worries of their lives having seen Mary and her divine Son descend the hill with smile on their face, brightness in their eyes and a confidence in their steps. Those seeking employment, marriage alliances and desiring children realize the will of God in their lives while those that are fed up with the hustle and bustle of life are savouring the calm, serene comfort in her lap. The people tired of rat race rejuvenate themselves for further leg of the race. The achievers in life, sit in her presence and muse on their achievements and render thanks to the merciful Lord. Those that crossed the silver and golden mile stones of their marital life are reliving their proud moments in this holy shrine and offering their gratitude to God who led their lives to success. Not one group or category of people! All sorts of people find solace and comfort and dignity and pride in her sanctuary. Hence no doubt, the sorrowful, the joyful, the struggling, the searching, the lost and drowned, the broken and the disillusioned, every one finds happiness and joy, destination and direction in their life on this holy mountain of Mary, the mother of God.
Truly Mary’s own abode
The Shrine of Our Lady of Sacred Heart, is popular today as the spiritual resort and haven for the devotees of the North Coastal Andhrapradesh. It is a shining star among the Marian shrines in Andhrapradesh. The present luster is God-given gift to the shrine. It is made visible through the hard work of the many a self sacrificing missionary and devout child of Mary. A shrine is like a light house in the harbour to every pilgrim in his spiritual journey. Ross Hill Shrine lays paths to holiness, attracts the devotees to the heights of holiness, and consoles the sorrow laden lives of the faithful. It is a huge tree of consolation and under its soothing shade the faithful revive and refresh themselves. It is like our maternal home. It encourages us in the face disappointments, supports us in the moments of fear and anxiety. It mediates divine experience and enables us to savour peace and joy. The uniqueness of Ross Hill Shrine consists in being an effective channel in this regard. This is the trust of the pilgrims. This is truly Mary’s own home!
Every devotee who takes steps towards God, like the sign board, shows others the way to God and leads them to Christ. This is a challenge in the pilgrimage. Then, to make the pilgrimage a source of blessing, we need to keep in mind the following
Practice the following to make your pilgrimage to Our Lady of Sacred Heart, Visakhapuri Mary Matha’s Shrine, Ross Hill
- Prepare to obtain divine experience. Turn your heart to God. Leave your house with the special intention
- In the Shrine, to have an experience and the spiritual Joy, examine the conscience, repent and confess your sins.
- Participate in the Mass and listen to the Word of God and receive the Eucharist.
- Fulfill your vows
- Resolve strongly to make alterations in the areas that require change
- In cases of spiritual ailments like spiritual anxieties or confusion or any long standing doubts and problems consult the spiritual guide and get sufficient guidance.