Pilgrimage with Father Gillio in 2017

Father Flavio Gillio, Assistant Director of the Shrine of La Salette in Attleboro, Massachusetts is leading a very special pilgrimage/course/retreat with Kairos in 2017:

Pilgrims Between the Two Mountains
A Biblical course/pilgrimage in the Holy Land followed by optional Retreat at Our Lady of La Salette

May 16-31, 2017


A biblical course/pilgrimage in the Holy Land, combining travel with lectures, moments for personal prayer and readings for a rich, on-site learning and transforming experience, followed by a retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette (France), visiting Corps & Alabandin.

Why a Pilgrimage?

by Father Flavio Gillio

Pilgrimage is one of the best metaphors for both our existence and God. It bears a deep anthropological and theological value. One the one hand, we are and belong to a pilgrim people. We form and are part of a pilgrim community. We are always on the go.

On the other hand, we do not walk alone. In our journey, we are actually found by the One we are searching: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God, in the Bible, is a pilgrim God (see the outstanding book by Abraham Joshua Heschel God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism). He is the One who constantly looks for his walking and pilgrim people (see Gen 3:8-9). Up to the point that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God dwelt among us (see Phil 2:1ff; see also the letter of St John Paul II, Letter on Pilgrimage, 1999).

A pilgrim community and a pilgrim God: their pilgrimages are told through the biblical “History of Salvation” conceived as a progressing and unfolding journey from the Paradise lost to the Paradise found, symbolized in the New Jerusalem (see the Book of Revelation). A story full of characters that embarked themselves on challenging journeys, both physical and spiritual: Abraham, a “wandering Aramean” (see Dt 26:5), took the risk of journeying towards an unknown land (Gen 12:1; 15:17; 17:1); Moses, the greatest prophet, led Israel into a collective pilgrimage (see the book of Exodus); Hosea, who prophesied just before the destruction of Israel in 722 BC to the Northern Kingdom, embarked himself in a painful journey through love. In the New Testament, a young woman from Nazareth, Mary, journeyed through the darkness of raw faith; Paul and the apostles, the "pilgrims for Christ", journeyed from the Torah to the Cross and the resurrected Jesus. They all were “men and women on the way”, following and witnessing the One who is the “Way”. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth, the preeminent pilgrim of the Bible, embraced a journey that stands as a call and a challenge to his disciples.

It is not a coincidence, therefore, that the Christian Tradition started to refer to the idea of pilgrimage as a metaphor for the whole Christian life. Since the very first centuries of the Christian Tradition, some of the most relevant Church Fathers such as Origen (c. 184/185 - c. 253/254), Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215), Cyprian bishop of Carthage (c. 249 - c. 258), John Chrysostom ((c. 347 - c. 407), St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Caesarius of Arles (c. 468/470 - c. 542) and Gregory the Great (c. 540 - c. 604), explored in their writings the concept of Christians as citizens of heaven and as pilgrims, traveling towards the heavenly Jerusalem. In one of the earliest Christian writings, the anonymous author of the Letter to Diognetus described Christians in the following terms:  “[Christians] live each in his native land but as though they were not really at home there [as sojourners]. They share in all duties as citizens and suffer all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland a foreign land ... They dwell on earth but they are citizens of heaven” (Letter to Diognetus, 5).

The concept of life as an ongoing pilgrimage gained even more popularity from the fourth century on. Christian pilgrimages to sacred places started to develop. It occurred when the Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. Familiar with the practices of pagan religion, including travelling to sacred places and shrines, Constantine and his Mother Helen set about creating what will be later on called the ‘Holy Land’: a network of holy places across the Land of Israel.

The concept of life as an ongoing journey kept on being a central idea in the following periods and centuries. The French Christian Philosopher Gabriel Marcel, Christianity’s foremost existentialist of the Twentieth century and author of Homo Viator, reminds us that the pilgrim condition is our constant and permanent condition and that the meaning of our lives is not found once reached the end of our journey, but in the very journey itself. We are ‘men and women on the way’, ‘itinerant men and women’. This means that attention must be given not only to the goal of the journey, but also to the process as well as to its shape and form. Gabriel Marcel also reminds us that at the origin of every journey there is a quest and a desire for change, often aimed at rearranging or reorienting one’s personal choices in life from a faith perspective: change in terms of our relationship with ourselves, God, the others and creation. Change in terms of moving towards the new horizons indicated by God with and through faith and trust.

In this perspective the current itineraries and pilgrimages are meant to be both an occasion to experience how God became pilgrim within our personal existential journeys, and a discipleship process, designed to take its participants into a personal and community journey of faith to discover who God is, who they are, and what God is willing to do through them in their contexts and communities. As such, the pilgrimages keep into account the texture of human experience and engage it in a fruitful dialogue with both the Word of God and the message that Mary delivered at La Salette. They are meant to be a journey to deepen the experience of God’s unconditional love; a journey to explore and appreciate Scriptures’ transforming role for a lifetime of growth and service.

This pilgrimage is meant to be a journey to deepen the experience of God’s unconditional love, a journey to explore and appreciate Scriptures’ transforming role for a lifetime of growth and service.