Wesley Koswara | Staff Writer
Easter is on its way. The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection after three days in a tomb gets me thinking about what I would give up for the people that I love, or the lengths I’d go for my religion. I question how seriously I hold to Christianity. Oftentimes, I wonder whether my moral ideals are a luxury I can afford to lose should time, fate or chance turn against me.
The idea of the pilgrimage is designed to help the seeker answer these questions. The journey to a holy place becomes, or should be, an essential part of the destination. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam all have their sacred places where pilgrims would historically travel by the thousands to partake in a shared religious legacy.
Only recently, Coptic Christians in Egypt have been making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in record numbers, despite being encouraged not to as a sign of solidarity with Palestine. The Coptic Church has its roots in Egypt and is traditionally held to have been founded by St. Mark. Whereas Jerusalem is traditionally the holiest place in Christianity, other religions have their own sacred places that attract followers from around the world.
The Ganges River represents cleansing and purity to those who make the journey to bathe in it. Buddhists used to make the journey to little-known Borobudur Temple in Indonesia to contemplate the parables depicted on the walls. Muslims are required to make the journey to Mecca at least once in their lives if they are able, and for centuries Christians traveled from everywhere on Europe to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, thought to be the place of the tomb of the Christ.
In the Middle Ages, the days of the horse and cart and sailboat, those that could visited the tombs of saints or the resting places of holy relics with the belief that doing so was good for the soul. Even now, many still make the journey to the holiest place in Christianity.
But today, especially in the West, the idea has long since become obsolete. Travel is faster and more comfortable now than in any age, and yet the spiritual aspect of the “journey” has been left behind.
I must here distinguish between tourism and the actual pilgrimage.
Many still visit Jerusalem to see the sights or places Jesus was said to be, but I think what distinguishes the religious from the secular is the purpose. It is the deep-seated state of self-reflection and desire for a connection with the divine that sets the pilgrimage apart from the tourism.
Why has the West lost this aspect of devotion in its faith? I think the answer lies in the development of Christian thought and modern Western culture.
While I don’t think that the pilgrimage is necessary for the betterment of a person, I do believe that someone sufficiently dedicated will benefit from a period of reflection over the course of a journey focused on seeking God.
There’s no guarantee of divine revelation when visiting the place, for example, where Jesus was born. But, the journey is what we make of it, and in a world that runs on materialism and hedonism there isn’t a person on earth who doesn’t need to take the time to go back to their roots and make the journey.