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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 107 (Suppl.), August 2008



Pilgrimages and Shrines, paths of peace,

concretely from the point of view of Justice based on my experience in Ireland



Msgr. Richard Mohan

Prior of St. Patrick’s Purgatory



Two basic values defining justice are person and community. We can talk about person-in-community. We speak of persons created in God’s image.  

Pope Benedict XVI in his message for World Day of Peace 2007 says:  “A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential quality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity”.

“I am convinced” the Pope says “that respect for the person promotes peace.”

John Paul II in his message for World Day of Peace 2002 says “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness”.

The challenge of Pilgrimages and Shrines must be the challenge to promote respect for persons, to build relationships of justice and solidarity, to walk with people and help them “mature in the ability to love” says Pope Benedict XVI.

Pilgrimages are a practical expression of the virtue of hospitality towards the stranger (Erga migrantes caritas Christi).

To follow Christ is to live our Baptism. It is to carry our cross every day. The way of Justice has to be a way of the cross.

“I want you to come away to some lonely place……”

“Let us cross over to the other side” (Mk 4:35).

“The spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mk 1:12):

The themes of wilderness, desert, quiet place, crossing over, underpin pilgrimage and retreat.

 In Lough Derg, the Sanctuary of St Patrick (Purgatorium Sancti Patricii), pilgrims go away to a desert, a lonely place; they cross over to the other side.

Without phones and radios, without food or drink, they experience what it is like to be isolated, to be at the mercy of the elements, what it is like to be poor.

In bare feet they experience equality (an essential ingredient of justice).


With only one meal each day, a meal of dry bread and black tea or coffee they get a sense of what it is like to be hungry.

Without sleep for 24 hours, the experience helps them understand the weariness of people, their tiredness.    

Without home conveniences they get a glimpse of what it is like not to be in control, not to have power.

In sharing basic accommodation and facilities they are challenged about tolerance and freedom.

In the welcome they receive and in the (basic) hospitality, along with services offered by staff from different races and nationalities, they are challenged about respect and being in the care of others, including youth.

On the site of the ancient Celtic Monastery (with its guarantee of immunity) they feel safe. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (and in counselling) they are respected.

In Eucharist, they have the opportunity to celebrate their fellowship in Christ and be challenged about bringing (or being) good news. Celebration echoes themes of dying and rising etc.

…the Eucharist, as source and expression of all the elements of justice – the people of God participating as one, in spite of their ethnic, social or economic diversity, is the “source and summit” of every pilgrimage.   (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2004) 

Since the Sanctuary caters for only a few hundred pilgrims (not thousands), the experience is much more intense, very much more personal and ultimately more challenging.

In the Station Prayers pilgrims form themselves into a cross, committing themselves to following Christ, rejecting the ‘other gods’.

In the Renewal of Baptismal Promises and the Way of the Cross (after the Sacrament of Reconciliation) pilgrims are healed and strengthened.

At the ‘Penitential beds’, they walk and kneel and walk… towards the centre, towards the cross, embracing ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’.

The promotion of peace and justice and its significance for a people and a nation was referred to by Lilian Voye in a interview on the occasion of the first World Congress, Rome, February 1992. (Les Pèlerinages dans le Monde. Jean Chelini et Henry Branthomme. Hachette 2004)

Perhaps this is something that we in Ireland have been too close to in order to evaluate it objectively.