• Monica Smit

Pilgrimages change lives.

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

I’ve done 6 pilgrimages and I’m about to embark on my 7th in Denver. Every pilgrimage was as difficult as it was magical. If you only read one sentence in this article, let it be this…YOU NEVER REGRET GOING ON A PILGRIMAGE!

The hardest one for me so far was The Pascual Florida from Sanford to St Augustine. 5.5 days, 115 miles (185kms) in the blistering Florida sun. Someone sponsored me, and my high level of discomfort had me thinking my sponsors had 3 children attending demonic masses. Next time someone offers to pay for me, I’ll have to be more sceptical, the risk is high. I remember limping along in flip-flops because my shoes had become unbearable. I was so miserable, I couldn't even converse to distract myself. Thankfully, an angel in the form of a sweet young boy, gave me his walking stick.

I remember muttering under my breath while limping in the harsh, sticky Florida sun…”God, this pilgrimage better help my sponsors”.Then I continued to lovingly curse the family members I was suffering for, saying aloud to myself…”You little brat, this is for you…why do you have to be such a brat, this is all your fault”.

All the while I’m giggling and smiling inside while gazing skyward because I never thought I’d be the type of Catholic to go on pilgrimages. I only came back to the faith 4-5 years ago and even before that, I used to be ashamed to call myself Catholic. Now…look at me, I’m willingly suffering in public while proudly waving the Catholic banner. Oh how interesting life is.

My first pilgrimage, if you could call it that, was the Camino De Santiago in Spain. Compared to the other ones I’ve done, I wouldn’t call it the best Catholic pilgrimage out there. It could be, if you’re with a Catholic group. If not, it’s basically a secular experience with glimpses of catholic influence. In saying that, it changed my life. It gave me time to think and reflect on my sinful and selfish past. The Camino was a turning point in my personal growth, and for that, it was worth every step.

I’ve been to the Quito, Ecuador pilgrimage that happens in late Jan-early Feb. My amazing Mother has been devoted to Our Lady of Buen Suceso for about 15 years. I remember her trying to share the devotion with me, but I had no interest whatsoever. Then, a few years later, I’m in Quito waking up at 4am to process the streets with other ‘crazy Catholics’. I bet my Mom literally cried when she found out I was going. The statue ofOur Lady of Buen Suceso is only shown a few times a year on special occasions. I saw Her every day for 10 days and Her obvious beauty was all that affected me. However, when they took her away, it was then that I felt piercing emotions about Her departure. I am not a particularly sentimental person, so this feeling was unexpected and memorable. It was then I knew this pilgrimage was special in a way the others can’t possibly be.

When preparing for a pilgrimage, I don’t usually feel excited as one feels before a weekend getaway, obviously. However, I am always curious and anxious to go. You are guaranteed to meet people that can positively influence your future if you let them. Being surrounded by like-minded people who willingly suffer for God’s glory is priceless. Even if you don't speak to anyone, that feeling alone is worth the effort. How does it actually change you? Well, that varies of course. Often, you won’t experience the fruits until months or even years later. Sometimes you can’t attribute growth specifically to one pilgrimage, but you know every step and every prayer has a higher purpose than you can't fathom.

Parents, I urge you to go on pilgrimages with your children, especially teenagers. Show them your fortitude and allow them to see it in others. It gives them an opportunity to meet well-rounded friends from all over the world and shows them that suffering can be satisfying. Pilgrimages are often fun, even when you’re in pain. In fact, I've sometimes felt guilty enjoying them when I should be suffering. Maybe that’s God’s way of showing us that being his servant doesn't always have to be an arduous and painful affair.

Many pilgrims embark on these events for big intention of a loved one, or their own. Some do it just to meet other Catholics. Some do it because they feel obligated to, and some just tag along for something to do. The reason you go doesn’t matter. Once you’re in the midst of it, your intentions will mature and evolve in ways you couldn’t plan for. The only thing that matters is that you GO!

If you can’t do pilgrimages, pay for someone else who can or go as a helper. No matter how you get involved, just do something…you won’t regret it. If you have the skills and vigour to organise one in your own parish, that’s even better. Imagine the graces!

In 2 days, I will start the 20th annual Cabrini pilgrimage in Denver, Colorado. It’s 50 Miles (80kms) over 2 days and ends at the Mother Cabrini Shrine. It’s one of the only pilgrimages that processes right through a metropolitan area (Denver downtown).

This was not my plan! I didn’t even know about it until last week. I didn’t want to go. I tried to come up with a good excuse not to…but there rarely is one. I knew I had no reason not to go, so here I am going on another pilgrimage. As soon as I decided to go, I knew it was the right thing to do. I’m now curious and anxious to see what God has planned for me to learn or experience.

My Mom has a famous joke she always tells, and now I always tell;

How do you make God laugh?

Tell him your plans.

I must confess, I make God laugh often.

To find out more about the pilgrimages I've been on, visit my website at - https://www.monicasmit.com/catholic and subscribe for updates on future events OR contact me personally and I will answer any questions you have and connect you with the right people.

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