This is the first time in several years that I haven’t spent March preparing to leave for El Salvador, to be a pilgrim on the road to the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I’ve been thinking a great deal about pilgrimage lately. As part of a course this January we had to write up a “Rule of Life.” We had to describe the faith practices that give meaning and shape to our life. I included a section on pilgrimage.
In addition to weekly worship, it is important for me at least once a year to seek God more deeply through intentional pilgrimage. Whether encountering God on a mountaintop, in a monastery, or among the poor, I find refreshment in leaving behind my daily life in pursuit of the living God.
This need for pilgrimage has been fulfilled for me through travel to El Salvador to visit the graves of the Jesuit Martyrs, killed for speaking their thoughts that the poor are beloved by God, and that they deserved a better lot in life. They were shot in the head to tell the Salvadoran people not to think such radical thoughts. Most palpably in 2007 a group of students and I marched with 20,000+ people through the streets of San Salvador to the tomb of Bishop Romero, who stood up to the Salvadoran government that was murdering its own people to keep the poor from claiming their voice. In one of the last sermons before his assassination, Archbishop Romero promised that “if they kill me, I will be resurrected (reborn) in the Salvadoran people.” Indeed his death caused the movement to foment. (On March 15 the FMLN party representing the ideals of the those who stood up to the powers that be, will most likely claim the office of the president for the first time.
Normally when one thinks of pilgrims, the destinations they have in mind are Rome, Canterbury, Compostelo, Jerusalem. Pilgrimage is thought to be travel to a place where God’s spirit has hovered close. Saints have showed the presence of God in a troubled time. In the practice of ancient Israel pilgrims came regularly to Jerusalem for great festivals. Often while they were in the city they brought their case before the high court in the city. In his article on Psalm 122 in the Interpretation series James Mays writes, “Pilgrimage is a journey in search of justice.”
As pilgrims we walk in the places where God has acted, whether among the poor of El Salvador inspired by the example of martyrs who died on behalf of the oppressed, or on the road to Jerusalem. We draw close to the God who has drawn close to us. This lent, we all walk as pilgrims to the foot of the cross. Let us remember that pilgrimage is a journey in search of justice.