DIOCESE OF BALANGA
Pilgrims travel to these holy places with an urgent desire to pray. To be a pilgrim is to be prayerful. A pilgrim’s way is a life of prayers. Let us pray with them:
we pray for pilgrims
who leave the comforts and luxuries of their places and homes,
to go through the difficulties, detachments and deprivations,
in order to stand in reverence, in contrition and in thanksgiving,
in your presence in those holy places and shrines.
May they find what they are searching for,
receive what they ask,
and experience what they need,
in their pilgrimage to life.
We pray for pilgrims
who are returning home:
may they be safe,
may they be renewed in spirit,
may they be completely healed,
and fully converted,
so that, as they go back to their families and communities,
they may become your true witnesses,
faithful sharers of your caring words and saving works,
and thus bring others back to you,
as we all journey together in this life,
towards you and for you.
The What, Why and How of Shrine Pilgrimages
Usually they come from different faraway places. Yet they are compelled by a most noble and praiseworthy purpose: to visit the roots of their faith. It is a longing to walk where their Master trod, to witness how He lived His earthly life.
They endure long hours of travel, hectic schedules and endless hours of waiting in line to pay respects and to honor places associated with Him or with His saints and martyrs. Their visit marks a sense of gratitude for the gift of faith. They go there to pray and to manifest a spirit of repentance for having failed to live true to His words and will. They come with humble supplication for graces and blessings for themselves and for those whom they have left behind. Who are they? We call them. . .
The journey of a pilgrim is symbolic of earthly life. In Patristic times, a pilgrim trekked to Rome along treacherous and troublesome roads, with a group and with little monetary provision in his pocket. He wore a tunic and sandals. He had a shoulder cape on which he would sew souvenirs of his pilgrimage.
Our earthly life can be crisscrossed by rough and rugged roads. It can be either bumpy or slippery. There might be mountains to climb, obstacles to overcome and heavy loads to carry. Yet, we must go on. Reliance on God’s providence is a shield against the storms of life. However, there is great temptation to procure and produce more of the worldly provisions. One can be tested to acquire more, and be attached to such earthly goods. One can be strongly inclined to amass and to hold on to material possessions. They in turn can lead to an obscured vision of the way to God. One can miss the right direction on the road to God and might end up in a pit, or stranded on the side of the road.
So, we should be reminded of the Way of the Pilgrims. It is to travel unburdened by worldly cares. It is to journey in life with the unconditional and untainted vision of meeting God and willingly setting aside all worldly allurements.
We travel in this life. We are just pilgrims here on earth. Now it the time to ask: where does our life lead us? And, what direction are we giving to our life? . . .
It was a pious custom during the first millennium to visit the four major basilicas in Rome: San Pietro in Vaticano, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Paulo fuori le Mure. The visit used to be done within the same ‘liturgical day,’ i.e., from evening prayer (or vespers) to evening prayer (vespers) of the next day. In the course of time, three other churches were added: San Lorenzo fuori le Mure, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Sebastiano. Thus, the number of churches to be visited on a single day was fixed at seven. This set itinerary was called “Giro della Sette Chiese” (Tour of the Seven Churches).
Today, the road which leads from San Sebastiano to San Paolo fuori le Mure retains its medieval name “Sette Chiese.” Pope Saint Pius V (1566-1572), describing the ancient pious custom of visiting the famous “seven churches” affirmed in his bull “Egregia Populi Romani.”
“These Basilicas are celebrated for their antiquity, their religious services, the relics of the martyrs venerated within, the indulgences gained, and finally, for mystical significance of the number seven.”
From this practice we patterned the custom of “visita iglesia” of seven Churches during Lenten season and especially during Maundy Thursday. Now with our Association of Catholic Shrines and Pilgrimages (ACSP) of the Philippines, we propagate and perform our own Shrine Pilgrimages. And why we have now Jubilee of Shrine Pilgrimages?
In Patristic times, Shrine is acknowledged as “porta Caeli” (the door of Heaven). Here on earth, we are on journey to our final home, that is, Heaven. Jubilee announces and invites us to come. Jubilee opens all ways and means to enter Heaven. And the Church, or the Shrine is the door to Heaven.
When the Church opens her door. . . it means that she knows everybody and invites everyone. The Church welcomes and accepts all. She recognizes all as her children. So, for her there is no barrier, no separation. There is no distance, no discrimination. She makes everybody feel at home with her, regardless of social position, conditions and orientations. And she treats and accepts all equally, regardless of contributions and connections.
Thus, all must acknowledge that God is reaching out to all. God continually searches for all, and includes all in His great plan of salvation. Thus, no one is left behind. No one is excluded. No one is ignored or abandoned. The Church wants all to feel comfortable with God. More even: to be consoled by God. For, God is indeed open to all. God is truly for all.
Second, Shrine is considered as “haec sanctus locus est” (this is a holy place). Why holy? It is because sacraments are celebrated there. It is because Jesus is present there, in the Blessed Sacrament.
And so when the Church opens her door. . . it means that we can experience a passage from failures to success, from defeats to victories, from sins to grace. . . The Church opens her door and so we are invited to rest, to renew and to refresh our life and our hearts in God, who is there waiting and welcoming us. God is there, available and ready to listen to us as we pray and pour out to Him what is there in our heart and mind.
God indeed wants us to be inspired, not discouraged; to be motivated and not disappointed; to keep on moving, not regress. God will never give up on us. God will never quit on us. God will never abandon nor leave us. He will continue to hope in us, to open His heart to us, to lay down His life for us. When the Church opens her door. . . it means that God is there, waiting for us. God is always watching us. God is ready to walk with us as to lead us back to the gates of heaven.
As we pass the Jubilee Doors of Mercy, this is the how of our attitudes should be:
We look down
We look straight
We look around
WE LOOK DOWN
Every time we climb a ladder or take a first step, we tend to look down. Every time we enter a passage or a door, we instinctively look down to remove our shoes or to wipe our feet. As we stood before the Holy Door, we looked down to ourselves and we realized our nothingness. Before God, we are nobody. We have nothing to be proud of. Everything we have is of God’s gifts bestowed by His goodness. “Looking down on ourselves” makes us realize that God is everything. God is the source. He is the answer. We cannot rely on our position or on our titles. We have to depend to God. It is really only He whom we need. “Looking down on ourselves” leads us to be sorry for our sins and shortcomings; to be contrite for our misdeeds and mistakes; to regret our faults and failures.
This Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is a challenge for us to look down on ourselves and not to look down on others.
WE LOOK STRAIGHT
As we enter a place, we focus our sight and attention on what is in front of us. We look straight. To look straight evolves a feeling of accomplishments and a sense of honesty. Looking straight signifies that there is nothing to hide. There is nothing to be ashamed of. When we entered the Holy Door, we felt we were standing before God to report to Him what has happened to our life thus far. And the question that came into our mind was “Can we look straight to Him?”
If we don’t have anything to hide, if we have no hidden agenda nor any material ambition, then we can look straight at God and at anyone. If we have not compromise any Gospel values, nor become fence-sitters indifferent to those who were in need or have suffered unjustly, then we can look straight at anybody. If we act morally and speak truthfully, we can stand proud and look straight.
This Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy impels us to make full use of our God given talents and not to squander His gifts. We resolve not to neglect our responsibilities nor abuse the trust of others. Then, we can look straight into their eyes.
WE LOOK AROUND
When we are inside any house, we look around to politely acknowledge the presence of the hosts and the other people present. To look around is to be aware of those who are in our midst. To look around is to be attentive to the pressing situation.
In life, we have to look around so that we will not lose anyone or neglect someone. We have to look around in order to find out who are those in need of our care and concern, our help and healing. We look around so that no one will think that he is forgotten or abandoned. We look around so that everyone will feel welcome and accepted.
This Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, God is looking around to find us and to bring us back to His loving fold. Let us also look around to see those who are asking for our love and forgiveness. Let us look around to search for those who have been left behind so that we can lead them back to God.
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy urges us to look up to Christ, to look up to the Cross which is our only source of redemption and the channel of God’s infinite graces.
And now as we exit, let us know that whenever we go, we always have to lift up our hearts to Christ and look up to His Cross.
Ruperto Cruz Santos, DD
Bishop of Balanga
and CBCP Episcopal Chairman for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
Friday, 10 June ACSP in Cebu