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10 pilgrimage

You don’t have to travel far to be a pilgrim

The camino holds great appeal, but pilgrimages come in all types, and the greatest journey is the one to Mass — by Fr Jamie McMorrin

The camino is the place to be for Scottish Catholics this summer. Two weeks ago (SCO, June 28), we read about the pilgrimage of the students from Glasgow University and the happy news of an engagement at the journey’s end—congratulations to Matthew and Hannah!

Last week (SCO, July 5) we heard that my friend and companion on the back page, Fr Michael, is currently packing his rucksack and heading in the same direction for a well-earned holiday: I look forward to reading his Camino reflections when he returns.



If he keeps his eyes peeled, he might spot my mum and dad, flashing by in a blur of lycra, leaving clouds of dust and the lingering smell of factor 50 suncream in their wake: not having taken their new role as grandparents as an excuse to slow down, they’re currently doing the Camino by bike. All roads, it seems, lead to Compostela.

My own summer plans are a little different. As a redhead, I’m in the fortunate position of not having to go abroad in order to get sunburnt, and so I’m currently spending my summer break on the ‘Costa del Fife,’ looking after the house and the dog for my parents while they’re away.



I’m thoroughly enjoying myself—long lies, leisurely walks, a well-stocked kitchen and, best of all, a pile of unread books to work through. But I must admit that, as my parents strapped on the famous scallop shell to their panniers, and as the photos of smiling pilgrims at Edinburgh Airport appeared on my Facebook feed, I felt a very slight twinge of envy.

But my perspective changed a little the other day when I bumped into a group of around 20 young people, with rucksacks and camping gear, making their way up from the beach. Rather more unusually, some of the group were wearing religious habits and, from the snatches of conversation I could pick up as they approached, were engaged in some sort of catechesis as they walked.



Somewhat embarrassed by my own rather un-clerical holiday attire, I introduced myself and discovered that they were from the Community of St John, a new religious congregation founded in France in the 1970s and were themselves on pilgrimage, heading to St Andrews.

It was a good reminder that you don’t have to travel far to be a pilgrim: a journey of Faith can begin, quite literally, right on your doorstep and the spirit of pilgrimage can help us to see well-known streets and familiar paths with a supernatural perspective.


Lord’s presence

As Jacob, waking from his dream, exclaimed, ‘surely God is in this place and I didn’t know it.’ And as Moses realised, to his surprise, that the ground he was standing on was made holy by the Lord’s presence, so every place, however ordinary, can be a meeting place with the God who was made flesh in a very unremarkable place and among very unremarkable people.

Of course, Scotland can be proud of her own pilgrim past, which, through St Andrew, connects us to the apostles themselves. The medieval cathedral in St Andrews once rivalled the great basilicas of Rome and Compostela, and the relics of the apostle now lie in the modern-day cathedral in Edinburgh where I live.


St James

It’s a strange thought that while huge crowds of people will trek across Spain to reach the relics of St James, the relics of another, and no less distinguished, apostle lie at the end of Princes’ Street, in the church where I say Mass almost every day.

A journey through Scotland’s Catholic past provide a ready-made pilgrim itinerary, from St Ninian’s Cave at Whithorn and St Columba’s monastic island of Iona where the Faith was first preached, to the medieval golden age recalled by St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh and the monasteries she and her descendants built all over Scotland.


Faith alive

The site of St John Ogilvie’s martyrdom at Glasgow Cross, the hidden seminary in Scalan and the reproduced image of the exiled Our Lady of Aberdeen, tell the story of how the same Faith was kept alive in days even more difficult than our own. In more recent times, there’s the Lourdes Grotto at Carfin and the shrine of Edinburgh’s own Venerable Margaret Sinclair, the saint of tomorrow.

Of course, the greatest ‘relic’ of all is even closer at hand: not only the bones, but the living body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Himself is present in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church throughout the world.


Privilege of Mass

Although we sometimes grumble about the effort involved in getting to Mass, in some ways, Jesus makes it too easy for us: perhaps if we really did have to make a long, arduous, ascetical journey to get to Church every Sunday, perhaps if every Mass was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, we’d realise how privileged we are to have His real presence so nearby and so accessible.

Wherever you find yourself this summer, at home or abroad, I hope that the spirit of pilgrimage will help you to encounter Jesus as He, like those French pilgrims, passes by your own front door, catches your eye and invites you to follow Him and His friends on an adventure. Who knows where you’ll end up! As they say in Spain, ‘Buen Camino!’

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