“Remember,” the Tour Director told us, “this is not a vacation. And it is not a tour. It’s a pilgrimage.”

Say the word, “pilgrimage,” and I immediately think of a procession of people walking toward Mecca. Or caravans of people in Biblical times, on camels and donkeys, in wagons or on foot, crossing the desert to get to Jerusalem.

And if you say, “pilgrims,” I automatically envision early American settlers – women in long, heavy dresses, with white aprons and bonnets, and men in black jackets and knickers, with shiny buckles on their shoes, belts, and hats.

Yet here I was, listening and learning in preparation for a pilgrimage of my own – to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

Actually, nothing could have adequately prepared me for the wonder and awe of this journey. It was an immersion into the culture, the history, the beliefs, and the transformation of an entire civilization that existed five hundred years ago. It tested my stamina, it strengthened my faith, and it opened my eyes to many things I’ve never noticed or understood before. Or that I once knew, but had long forgotten.

It also allowed me to spend a week enjoying the authentic Mexican food that I love.

The tour company that sponsored the trip is one that provides Catholic pilgrimages to religious sites around the world. There was a special joy for me in going on this journey with dozens of other people who share my faith, my beliefs, and many of my daily and weekly practices. We attended Mass in different churches and chapels, we prayed the rosary on the bus and in various other locations, and we shared prayers, intentions, and blessings at many points along our way.

We also climbed hills, pyramids, and lots of stairs, and spent much of our time walking through and around the various sites we visited. A nice bonus to this – in addition to enjoying fresh air and warm sunshine in the middle of February – was that I walked off the effects of all that Mexican food I was eating. Someone even asked me, a few days after I returned, if I had recently lost some weight!

I’m still processing everything from the trip – the wonderful new friendships I made, the history and culture I learned and experienced, and the miraculous events and occurrences that took place almost five hundred years ago and changed the lives of millions of people. I am still filled with awe and appreciation over being a part of what I now know was a sacred journey.

I’m starting to research and explore the dates and locations of other pilgrimages around the world. I never imagined myself pursuing this type of journey, and I never realized there were so many options and opportunities. I’m already excited, just thinking about all the possibilities.

Who knows? I may even find myself wearing a long dress someday, complete with a white apron and bonnet – as I’m crossing the desert on a camel.


The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 25, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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