One pilgrim soul, three pilgrim paths

Pilgrims progress

Fr Patrick McInerney SSC is the Director of the Columban Mission Institute. This year, he joined the pilgrim trails in Rome, Spain, and Jerusalem, providing him with a greater appreciation of the commonalities of the Abrahamic faiths.

- Southern Cross/ St Columbans Mission Society

In the past few months I have had the extraordinary privilege of visiting three of the four major Christian pilgrimage sites of mediaeval Europe. In March, I visited Rome, where I prayed in the four basilicas, St Peter’s, St Paul’s, St John Lateran, and St Mary Major.

After Muslim rule extended over much of the Middle East in the 7th century, Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land became more hazardous. Fortuitously, in the 9th century, the remains of the Apostle James were "discovered" in northern Spain. The place was named St James after him, in Spanish, Santiago. In the following centuries, it became the major place of pilgrimage for pilgrims from all over Europe.

In recent decades, the mediaeval practice has been revived. In April and May, I walked over 1,000 km from Granada to Santiago. This particular "way" is called the Camino Mozarabe, as it passes through the territories that were once Muslim Spain.

In June, I did a biblical formation programme at Ecce Homo in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful mix of input on the Gospel text and guided visits to sites in and around Jerusalem and beyond, including Galilee. I came away with a greater appreciation of the land considered holy by all three Abrahamic religions and its peoples.

I have been grieved by the Middle East after I left. Together with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders, inter-faith activists and all people of good will, I condemn the violence and appeal for peace with justice for all.

In these conflicts, it is easy to blame one side or the other - but that does not help the situation.

Walking the pilgrim path in Spain, I was embarrassed by paintings and statues of Santiago Matamoros, Saint James and Killer of the Moors. But I was heartened by paintings and statues of Santiago Peregrino, St James the Pilgrim.

I hasten to add that neither of these designations have anything to do with the Apostle James of history, but reflect the ecclesiastical, national, and political interests of mediaeval times. I use this example to make the point that the Christian story has been used for spiritual reasons and for militant ones.

The same is happening today with Islam. The vast majority of Muslims around the world are good, decent, God-fearing, spiritually motivated citizens striving for the common good; but a tiny minority violates cardinal principles of Islam for their own perverse ends, as is the case with Islamic State.

Read full article: Pilgrim Pat (St Columbans Mission Society)

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