Parishioners modernize an ancient practice by making a
virtual pilgrimage during Advent or Lent.
WASHINGTON - Some parishes have modernized the ancient
practice of making a pilgrimage - making the long journeys to
holy sites a collective effort of several walks around the
block, the local track or even inside shopping malls.
For centuries, Christians have made pilgrimages to sacred
places or shrines to venerate a relic, pray for spiritual
direction or fulfill a religious obligation. The pilgrimage
site that has always topped of the list is the Church of the
Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, said to be the burial site of
Our Lady of Lourdes North American Volunteers presented a
virtual spiritual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, last week at
St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls.
Today, while it might not be feasible for many U.S. Catholics
to make such a pilgrimage, they can still get the sense of
this journey, as well as the physical benefits of exercise,
if their parish sponsors a virtual pilgrimage. These
programs, such as "Walk to Jerusalem" and "Walk to Bethlehem"
were designed for church groups by St. John Health System, a
Catholic health care system that runs several Michigan
hospitals and clinics.
The Catholic Community of St. Jude in DeWitt, Mich., followed
this program after Terry Humenik, the volunteer parish nurse
read about it in a parish nurses' association newsletter. The
article highlighted a parish in Hawaii whose parishioners
virtually walked to Jerusalem and back during Lent.
When Humenik looked for more details from the parish she
realized the program originated at a nearby hospital that
supplies necessary materials and a how-to guide - found at
According to the Web site, the virtual pilgrimage is
"accomplished by individuals within the church or
organization logging their own walking miles each week." The
walk usually begins in January with the goal of accumulating
enough miles to reach Jerusalem by Easter. The fall version
is the "Walk to Bethlehem," which begins in September with
the intent of reaching Bethlehem for the Christmas
For St. Jude parishioners, the equivalency of a walk to
Jerusalem from their parish was 6,680 miles one way. By the
time they finished the 12-week program, about 350
parishioners walked, jogged, golfed and otherwise exercised
the equivalent of nearly 27,500 miles - enough for two round
trips with some 700 miles left over.
The parish had a little fun with the extra miles indicating
in the parish bulletin that they used the extra miles to make
the journey to Hell and Paradise - both Michigan towns -
before returning to DeWitt.
Humenik said many parishioners called the pilgrimage "just
what they needed" to get moving and also to strengthen their
faith through the prayers and meditations.
For each week of the "journey" participants received handouts
on spiritual reflections and information on countries they
would have passed en route with details about their culture
and challenges the local residents face in daily lives.
All forms of physical activity were included within the
program, but walking was the most popular. To fit within
their concept of a "virtual" trip, about 20 minutes of
aerobic activity was equated to about one mile of walking.
Every week parishioners tallied their miles in a parish
The parish health ministry took some of the guesswork out of
local mileage calculations, determining how many laps around
the church parking lots, the parish center or in the church
itself would equal a mile.
When the program got started, some parishioners were
skeptical, thinking they could never complete the mileage
necessary to get to Jerusalem. But as Humenik pointed out,
the pilgrimage was not determined by individual effort but by
the combined efforts of parishioners. And that in itself,
provided another spiritual lesson.
As she put it: "That gave us the chance to remind them that
we improve our individual prospects of getting to heaven when
we act together as a community."