Tips for making the most of your pilgrimage experience

We often think of a pilgrimage as a long distance trip with the holy site(s) we are visiting as the sole purpose of the journey.  If you can make a pilgrimage that way, that’s fantastic.  However, you can often find a pilgrimage site where you were already planning to go on vacation or a business trip.  With just a few minutes of additional planning, you can add a pilgrimage site to a trip you were already taking.

Confirm the details before you go.
Check the website if there is one, but don’t rely on it solely.  You’ll quickly learn that the websites of churches and holy sites often aren’t very robust and quickly fall out of date.  Make sure you also call ahead to:

  • Confirm hours and days the site is open as their website may be out of date
  • Ask if there is a wedding, funeral, or other special event, construction/restoration or closures of exhibits or areas that would make the site or portions of the site unavailable to visitors.  You don’t want to travel all that way and have the thing that you most wanted to see be unavailable to you.
  • Ask if there are any special exhibits or areas that they recommend you see that may not be on their website

Wear proper attire. 
Many sites will not allow you to enter in your vacation clothes.  Remember, even if you are visitingHawaii for a beach vacation and you make a pilgrimage to a church or holy site, it is still a church or holy site and as such, requires proper attire.  A good general rule is no shorts, no jeans, no skirts shorter than knee length, no tank tops, and no flip flops.  When you call to check the hours, it is a good idea to ask what they consider proper attire.

Respect others during your visit.
Don’t take pictures of people who are praying and avoid using flash to take pictures near others as it can be very distracting.  Try to go at least an hour or so before or afterMass.  This allows you to explore the site without being a distraction to those that are there forMass.  Better yet, arrive early for exploration and then stay for Mass or come for Mass and stay after to explore.

Make sure you spend time in prayer. 
Don’t just walk around, take pictures, and leave.  A pilgrimage is an opportunity to bring you closer to God.  Try to go during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and spend some time in adoration.  You can find Eucharist Adoration times across the country here: http://www.therealpresence.org/chap_fr.htm   It’s also a good idea to confirm adoration times when you call ahead.

Visiting the gift shop
If visiting the gift shop is important to you (if there is one) make sure to find out the hours and days they are open in advance.  Most church gift shops are only open on certain days and for short periods of time.

Nearby sites
Find out if any other pilgrimage sites are near the one you plan to visit.  Often there are great pilgrimage sites in close proximity to one another.  When you call ahead, ask for recommendations for other nearby sites.

Educate yourself on the site before you go.
It will keep you from inadvertently missing something and will be a better overall experience for you.  Are there relics for veneration?  Are there guided tours of the site available?  Is it a large site with lots of walking around?  Is it outside?  (Check the weather!)  What is the history of the building?  Who are the saints that are honored there?  Again, the person you speak to when you call ahead and the website can be great sources of this type of information.

Large groups
If you are taking a large group, be sure to call ahead and make arrangements with the site.

Just 5 minutes or so on the phone when you call ahead and a few minutes exploring the site’s website can make a huge difference in your pilgrimage experience.

 CALL AHEAD CHECKLIST

  • Confirm hours & dates open
  • Inquire about special events, closures, and special exhibits that may not be on the website
  • Ask for recommendations of what to see during your visit
  • Ask about proper attire
  • Confirm days and times gift shop is open (if there is one)
  • Inquire about dates and times of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Confirm mass times
  • Ask for recommendations for other nearby sites
  • Ask for some background history about the site and the saints that are honored there
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