What is a Pilgrimage?
A religious pilgrimage is a long journey or search to a place of religious significance in order to become closer to the divine and learn about yourself. One of the most popular pilgrim destinations is the Holy City of Jerusalem because it is the holy land of three different religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam).
Pilgrimages in Islam
The practice of "Hajj" is one of the 5 pillars of Islam that all believers must heed. "Hajj" is a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, the Holy City of their Prophet and founder which all Muslim's must travel to at least once in their life (if they are able-bodied and can afford to do so). The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the largest in the world (3,000,000 in 2010).
Pilgrimage in Judaism
In ancient Judaism the Temple was central to the religion and all believers were required to travel to the temple and offer sacrifice on a regular basis. With the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D. and the onset of the diaspora, the focus on the temple waned and pilgrimages fell do to the difficulty of making and the lack of a temple. In recent centuries the practice has renewed with a primary focus on the "wailing wall" in Jerusalem. However, this practice is not required of Jews.
Pilgrimage in Christianity
Though Christianity does not mandate believers to take a pilgrimage, the practice has been common since the 4th century and is still widely popular, especially amongst Catholics. One of the most popular sites for a Christian pilgrimage is Jerusalem and the Holy Land, especially the site of the Crucifixion and the Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem. For Catholics, other holy sites are also common, such as Rome and the Vatican, Marian apparition sites like Fatima or Medjugorje, and other burial places of Saints.
The Purpose of Pilgrimages
So why do believers of the major religions take pilgrimages?
1) Enjoyment--The first reason is simple and relatively obvious--traveling is fun! While pilgrimages should be fundamentally "un-cushy" and somewhat difficult, traveling is always fun. There is something amazing about seeing foreign places and if your an adventurous person you can't help but enjoy yourself even in the basic of traveling accommodations.
2)Better Knowledge of Faith--The second purpose of a pilgrimage is to gain more knowledge about your faith. Whether it's a Muslim experiencing the wonder of Mecca, or a Christian experiencing first hand the Glory of Christ's resurrection, a pilgrimage should be a learning experience for those involved.
3) Better Knowledge of Self--Pilgrimages should make you realize what you're made of. They are not vacations, and as such you should not be staying in 5 star hotels and traveling in coach buses. They should make you test yourself, make you rely on God and the gifts he has given you, and as such make you learn about yourself and give you greater faith.
4) Community--Pilgrimages almost always involve community. Whether your traveling with your family or a group of people, those who you take this journey with may become your closest friends. Furthermore, once you get to your destination you will most likely experience community on a more global level. It is hard to not love your faith when you are surrounded by millions of people who believe the same thing you do.
5)Spiritual Journey--Above all a pilgrimage should parallel the believer's life journey toward the afterlife. Whether your a Judeo-Christian journeying towards heaven, or a Muslim heading to paradise, life a roller coaster of struggle, joy, and everything in between. A Pilgrimage should be hard, whether its walking hundreds of steps up to your destination, sleeping under the stars in the rain, or relying purely on the grace of others to reach your destination, the hardship of your journey should bring you closer to the God you are seeking.
© 2011 R D Langr
JR Krishna from India on June 20, 2014:
Liked your post. it makes sense
Harry from Sydney, Australia on June 20, 2014:
Interesting hub explaining why people go for a pilgrimage ... personally I feel its the sense of connecting with the allmighty at a different level that makes you appreciate life and the world around you a bit more.
Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on June 20, 2014:
Good topic and fine narration. I loved reading. But I wonder why you left Hinduism, the believers of this religion makes the largest number of pilgrims in the world. Hope u might have heard about the famous Kumb Meala where millions of people gather. I have done a couple of hubs on religion, pilgrimage of different faiths. Please find and read the same. Shared here. Voted up.