Modern Media Enable the ?Virtual Pilgrimage?

By Brother Andrew Kosmowski, S.M.

This year happens to be the centenary of the apparitions at Fatima, and many people are flocking to Portugal to make a pilgrimage. What happens, though, if you want to make a pilgrimage but for whatever reason cannot travel? This may especially be the case if cost is prohibitive — a cause of concern for many people of faith.

Catholics, especially monks and nuns, were creative and gave us a tradition that we call the virtual or vicarious pilgrimage. Many Catholics already do this during Lent as they pray the Stations of the Cross. Some may also do so using Ignatian prayer, an approach that encourages the person to imagine what is occurring in biblical passages, paying attention to details that are omitted, such as size of the crowd, time of day, etc. Others would read or hear stories from those who had been able to go on a pilgrimage, then imagine what it was like in an attitude of prayer. These journals, some with illustrations, and these prayer methods served as inspiration for many artists to paint religious scenes that visualized others’ virtual pilgrimages.

With the advent of film, movies and later video, the virtual pilgrimage had new media. Many early movies were about religious topics, such as the lives of Jesus and of Joan of Arc. Almost from its founding, the Marian Library has been at the forefront of providing access to the virtual pilgrimage experience, lending reel-to-reel films in the 1950s and 1960s about places such as Walsingham and Fatima. Producer/director John Bird, authors/producers Bob and Penny Lord, and others produced videos about Marian shrines, many of which aired on EWTN and are now available in DVD format. Local libraries may be able to provide access to these items, and the Marian Library has a large and multilingual collection of DVDs about shrines around the world.

The internet provided yet a newer means of making a virtual pilgrimage that is in the line of reading pilgrim diaries. Many shrines have websites with images of their grounds, and some even live-stream events taking place in the main sanctuaries. Brother John Samaha, S.M., in August of 2000 suggested in L’Osservatore Romano (Nos. 32/33) that some are taking virtual pilgrimages through what is now known as All About Mary, the Marian Library’s online encyclopedic resource on the Blessed Mother. This means that it is possible to make a virtual pilgrimage of sorts without even seeking a shrine to “visit.”

The key piece to making a virtual pilgrimage is to have an attitude of prayer. Regardless of the size of the group, one must have an openness to prayer while watching a video or looking at photographs online. By being open to learning more about themselves during the journey, the virtual pilgrims may have an encounter with Jesus, which is the major purpose of Christian pilgrimages.

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