Father Edmund Chong at Duomo Cathedral of Milan; it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and took five centuries to complete.
Father Edmund Chong advises on the preparations and attitude needed for a pilgrimage
A PILGRIMAGE CAN be made alone, or with a group (with a spiritual drector in tow). Both have their merits, said Father Edmund Chong, who has been making pilgrimages since June 1993. Father Edmund is parish priest at St. Joseph Church (Bukit Timah).
When making a pilgrimage by yourself or with a friend, you can spend as much time as you like at any site. When with a spiritual director, you enjoy the privilege of celebrating Mass (sometimes at shrines) in a language you are accustomed with, and you get to participate in group religious exercises like praying the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, and doing meditations with your spiritual director’s guidance.
Either way, what a pilgrimage is all about is never as important as why you are on one, Father Edmund said. “With the ‘why’, then there can come a ‘how’ to encounter God,” he said.
This is also why Father Edmund encourages pilgrims to make a confession before beginning the pilgrimage.
“Sin blinds us to God and to seeing things His way. Confession sets us free from obstacles that may disrupt our connection to God,” he explained.
Other preparations for a pilgrimage include reading the Bible, if you are going to the Holy Land, or reading about the shrines you are visiting, to appreciate the significance of your journey.
“Constantly ask, ‘why am I embarking on this journey?’” said Father Edmund. “Without the ‘why’, there’s no ‘how’ to enter the pilgrimage,” he reiterated.
Father Edmund helps to prepare pilgrims through selected readings, which sets the tone for the pilgrimage, and constantly reminds them to meditate and reflect. He meets with his pilgrims once before the pilgrimage, once after, and at least once on the journey. During the pilgrimage he reminds them to “search their hearts” to make sure they are still adhering to the reason for making their pilgrimage so that the pilgrimage will not just become an excursion, which would be the case if pilgrims end up shopping and site-seeing and are not interested in the spiritual aspects.
That does not mean that he does not allow the pilgrims to shop while on pilgrimage. It is alright “so long as it does not interfere with their reasons for making the pilgrimage” as the souvenirs they buy are for friends and family, and the souvenirs can help them remember their trip, he said.
On visits to sacred sites, Father Edmund explained that a visit to a site because Jesus had been there might turn out to be no different from a visit to a historical site if the spiritual content is missing. He thus encourages pilgrims to “pray for the grace of the moment to unite ourselves with the spirit of God”.
To illustrate his point, Father Edmund explained that to go to where Jesus was transfigured and simply marvel at the site, is not enough. “We have to listen to His message to have a better appreciation of the meaning of transfiguration. So how to be transfigured? Ask God to draw out the lessons of the visit to enrich us.”
For a first-time pilgrim, Father Edmund highly recommends going to the Holy Land because “that’s the land of our Lord Jesus Christ, made sacred by our Lord walking on earth”. “It’s significant because it connects us to our faith,” he said. Visiting the Holy Land helps us understand both the Old and New Testament better, he added.
“Later on, you may wish to visit Rome, Fatima, Lourdes – all of which have a considerable significance to our lives too. Visiting shrines and tombs of saints, learning about their lifestyles, can edify us to holiness, give us divine aspirations and raise our minds and hearts to God.”
By Joyce Gan