What is a Catholic Pilgrimage?

Simply put, a pilgrimage is a spiritual journey.

It can be made anywhere, by anyone, for just about any spiritual purpose. For Catholics, it means traveling to a destination — whether it’s a holy site, outdoor space, or even near to home — to experience God in a unique way.

The goal is always transformation. Anyone can travel to a location, but the pilgrim seeks to encounter something deeper. In that way, a pilgrimage is never truly finished, because hopefully you will come back changed, unable to return to old ways of living or thinking.

It’s also more intentional. A pilgrimage is far more than an itinerary which includes cathedrals and Christian historical sites. It’s an intentional encounter with the story of God’s work in the world. Pilgrims are there to pray, celebrate Mass, and reflect on the significance of these places — to fully enter these sacred places with their hearts, minds, and souls.

Pope Benedict, in an address given at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in 2010, gave this summary of Catholic pilgrimage:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.

Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to the places associated with the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. They go to Rome, the city of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, and also to Compostela, which, associated with the memory of Saint James, has welcomed pilgrims from throughout the world who desire to strengthen their spirit with the Apostle’s witness of faith and love.”