‘Pilgrims of Hope’

Digging deeper into our experiences to hear the voice of God

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Bonnar (new)I have always enjoyed a good quote. As someone on the forensics team in high school and as a preacher of over 35 years, I have come to appreciate the power and provocation of quotes. For example, one of my favorite quotes comes from the famous poet T.S. Eliot. He once said, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Life can be understood as a collection of experiences. I had a religion teacher in high school who always said, “Read the experiences.” Perhaps that was his way of inviting us to dig deeper into the experiences of our lives.

One of the experiences we share as human beings is that of being pilgrims. We are a pilgrim people on a journey. Despite the roots we put down and the walls we put up in this world, we are here only on a visit. Our ultimate destination is to one day arrive home, in heaven, and to see God face-to-face. As priests, it is our privilege and honor to lead God’s people in our respective vineyards through this journey.

If you have ever had the occasion of directing a pilgrimage of one kind or another to a sacred site, perhaps you can appreciate the responsibility of such a task, as well as the fact that things do not always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations that emerge like interruptions and delays as well as detours and surprises, all of which are part of the journey. What happens when these unplanned instances fall on us. We can determine whether these moments become obstacles or opportunities, stumbling blocks or stepping stones. The key in this regard is not just to embrace the experience, but through prayer and reflection to find the meaning, for God never stops speaking to us. What is more, these messages can often become a classroom of learning for us as we aspire to grow in our priesthood.

To that end, we are dedicating this entire issue of The Priest to an intentionally collaborative reflection on something that we do not perhaps think about often — namely, pilgrimage. In the busyness of our life and ministry as priests, we can become so consumed in the experiences of the journey that we fail to capture the rich meaning of it all. There is so much we can learn about God, ourselves, and one another when we take time to reflect upon our collective journey.

Father Ron Witherup, PSS, looks at pilgrimage through the lens of the sacred Scriptures and points out the vocabulary of pilgrimage in the Bible. Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, shares his personal experience of being a pilgrim. Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D., examines pilgrimage in the context of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s pilgrimage took her to the foot of the cross.

Susan Muto, Ph.D., addresses pilgrimages from the perspective of the priest that is not just external but internal as well. Father Ed Linton, OSB, who directs the North American College Sabbatical Program, offers a witness to the power of pilgrimage in the life of a priest.

As we stand on the threshold of the Jubilee Year in 2025, D.D. Emmons looks closely at how we can best prepare ourselves for this holy journey and what it can mean. Pope Francis has chosen “Pilgrims of Hope” as the motto for this sacred time. How can anyone be on pilgrimage without hope?

I pray that these reflections will help you appreciate the honor that is ours — namely, to lead the People of God, every day, on pilgrimage to him. We are pilgrim priests ordained for a pilgrim people. God is counting on us to accompany his people as we all seek one day to enter the holy doors of heaven.

Since I became a bishop three years ago, I not only love quotes, but I also respect the necessity of living by a motto. In that spirit, let us go forth to be “Pilgrims of Hope.”

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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