Why go to all the time, effort and money to go on pilgrimage? Certainly that money could be given to the poor or spent on the many practical needs of every family — so how can a person justify the time and money spent on such a trip?
Fortunately for John and I, traveling with our six kids has helped to purify our motives a bit. Let’s be honest, traveling with 6 kids for two weeks can be akin to traveling in the dessert for 40 years with the Israelites — complaining, moaning, hunger, thirst, wondering if the agony will ever end — and did I mention complaining?
So, yeah, our kids help to keep it real. But despite all the challenges, John and I actually love to travel with our kids — we really do. They’re some of our favorite people in the world, and going on pilgrimage has most definitely drawn us closer as a family.
Which is why we jumped at the chance to bring them all the way over to Fatima for the 100th Anniversary year.
Pilgrimages are not meant to be glorified vacations. They’re meant to teach us how to live well, how to love our neighbor, and to give us the time to step back from our daily routines, so we can grow closer to God.
Placing ourselves outside of our comfort zones can put us in a more vulnerable place — a place where God can reach down and teach us something, shake us up a bit, and set us on a different path than we were once going.
A pilgrimage is as much about the journey to get there, as it is the destination. And believe me, you can learn an awful lot about yourself along the journey.
We all had moments on our trip where we were most definitely not the “best version of ourselves” — but darn it, if we don’t need those moments to keep us humble and to remind us we need God’s grace if we’re ever going to see lasting change in our lives.
The very best pilgrimage can be like a “mid-term exam”. It can help us to take real stock of where we are in the life of virtue, and where we need to change.
Going on pilgrimage is also a very concrete way to offer up an intention, or a number of intentions, and to dedicate all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of your trip for those intentions. If taken seriously, it can be a powerful prayer.
Before we went on our trip, we asked people to share their intentions — and they did. It was actually quite humbling to print out this list and carry it on me for the entire trip. Anybody reading this who gave me your intentions, I prayed for you throughout the trip.
When we finally reached Fatima, we wrapped our intentions around a blessed candle and symbolically lit the candle and watched the intentions burn away, as if to say, “We carried them to this point, but now it’s all in your hands, Lord.”
Turns out, the blessed candles served many purposes on our pilgrimage. We are descendants of Celtic warriors, so of course our kids also used the candles to engage in battle.
Yes, fight on, valiant children. You fight the good fight of the faith — just don’t poke out any eyeballs. 🙁
As an aside, it was a little strange for my American sensibilities to see blessed wax molds of entire babies, organs, legs, feet, and other figures that were meant to symbolize special intentions of the pilgrims.
At the same time, I kind of love that part of our faith that puts the head of St. Catherine of Sienna on display in a church, divies up Saints bodies to end quarrels, and burns wax figurines of a man’s leg at Fatima.
There’s something refreshing about that kind of faith.
One little nugget that kept coming to me throughout the trip: Mary is there to teach us the shortcuts to Jesus. Sure, we can choose to go the long way, but why do that when we have a Mother who knew Jesus better than anybody else on earth?
I mean, I’m the girl who constantly consults her Maps App to shave off even a minute of my trip. I like going the shortest route. So why not take the shortest route to Jesus?
Every time I wonder, “well, is this getting too close to Mary?”, I just think of that amazing Saint, John Paul II. His motto was Totus Tuus, Maria, “Totally yours, Mary”.
How much closer can a person get than that, and he turned out amazingly well. So, be not afraid, people, Mary will never take us further away from her Son — she’ll only lead us closer to Him.
If that’s all I got from the trip, I would say it was a big win. Life-changing, if I let it be. So yay for Fatima!
If you happen to go, I recommend visiting the nearby town of Aljustrel. It’s the village where Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta lived. Their homes and the site where the Angel of Peace first appeared to them are all in walking distance of each other.
I was really moved by my experience of walking into the room where Francisco died. Not sure what that was all about, but it was a peaceful spot. The Irish sometimes refer to “thin spaces”, places where Heaven seems to touch Earth. This felt that way for me.
After visiting the homes, walk on down the path to the site of the first apparition of the Angel of Peace. His interaction with the children was very instructional in nature. He taught them prayers and how to better perform acts of penance. He even gave Jacinta and Francisco their first Holy communion in preparation for their important mission.
Aljustrel is such a peaceful place to visit, and it’s about a five minute taxi ride from the Basilica of Fatima. It’s definitely worth taking the time to visit while in Fatima.
The frugal side of me suggested we skip the candlelight procession in Fatima because of the expense of hiring a driver to get back to Lisbon. I’m so grateful that John insisted it would be worth the expense for our kids to have that experience. He was so right. It was so worth it.
I mean, how many times are you in Fatima? Stay for the procession. It’s a lovely experience.
Perhaps one of the most moving parts of the procession was watching my own kids proudly raise their candles to honor Mary: Just a woman: simple, humble, and dedicated to her Son. A woman who said “yes” to God’s plan for her life and changed the course of history.
Sometimes it’s hard to be proud of the Church, in all of its sinfulness, but this was one of those nights when we all felt proud to be part of something so beautiful. Those are good moments for all of us to have.
Wonder what it’s like to spend an hour and a half with a bunch of kids, with flaming candles at their disposal? It went remarkably well. Trying to blow out those candles gave the two year old hours of entertainment. Here’s a little peak:
Here’s another clip of the procession with the statue of Mary.
The crown holds the bullet that had been taken out of John Paul II, after the failed attempt on his life on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, in 1981. He attributed his miraculous recovery to Mary’s intercession.
Disclaimer for all my Protestant friends: Don’t worry, we’re not worshipping the statue, we’re just raising our candles to honor Jesus’ mother, being represented by the statue. “All Generations will call me blessed”. (Luke 1:48) Okay then, here’s a little peek…
Here’s a few more pics to give you a feel for the procession:
So, after going, would I say it was worth all the time, the money, the complaining, the exhaustion, the dehydration, and the hassle? Yes, yes I would. A hundred times, yes!
Amazing encounters with Catholics from around the world, the chance to experience the feeling of “being home” in a Catholic Church in a faraway land, and the blessings we all felt to be part of something so much bigger and more beautiful than ourselves — it made it all worth it.
Linking up with Kelly.