Why Make a Pilgrimage?

Marian Procession, Lourdes, France

In the 1927 novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop”, written by the eminent American writer, Willa Cather, there is a scene that well captures why a journey to a sacred site holds such value for the human heart and soul.

One of the main characters in the story, Fr. Joseph Vaillant, a 19th century missionary priest in the wilderness of New Mexico, is speaking with his bishop about recent accounts of a beautiful Indian maiden, said to be the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, appearing to a humble Indian man in Mexico City.

Willa Cather writes:

“Father Vaillant […] declared to the Bishop that he meant himself to make a pilgrimage to this shrine at the earliest opportunity. […] ‘It is a household word with them that their Blessed Mother revealed Herself in their own country, to a poor convert. Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.’

Father Vaillant began pacing restlessly up and down as he spoke, and the Bishop watched him, musing. […] ‘Where there is great love there are always miracles,’ he said at length. ‘One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph: I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.'”