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Calling all pilgrims

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Think ahead, if you can, to the summer. What are you planning to do with yourself?

It’s hard to picture July right now in a place like South Bend, where March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a ferocious lion that spits snow and wind at you and tries to eat you. But the truth is, summer is nearing, and now is the time to start making choices about how to spend it.

For seniors, summer likely holds the last gasp of freedom, the start of a new job, the hunt for a new job or a combination thereof. But what about you underclassmen? Some people take the easy road – they find a summer job and try to earn some cash before school starts up again, they overdose on Halo 2, they “take it easy.”

I’m not trying to suggest taking it easy is wrong. We call it summer vacation for a reason. But vacation doesn’t entail forgetting our obligations. For Catholics, this means we don’t implement a selective Mass attendance policy. We don’t suspend our commitment to service. In other words, there is a difference between “taking it easy” – a natural desire when we don’t have homework – and “taking the summer off.” Taking the summer off is exactly what we shouldn’t do.

Instead, we are called to take our faith seriously while we take it easy. Countless people at Notre Dame answer this call brilliantly. They do summer service projects through the Center for Social Concerns domestically and abroad. They work in programs like Camp Kesem, Notre Dame Vision and National Youth Sports Program. And many others, even as they opt for jobs and Halo 2, incorporate regular service work and worship as well.

I encourage everyone to follow suit. Make a visit to the Center for Social Concerns and find out what you can do. Seek out a parish. Talk to people who serve in the places you’ll live while school’s out. There are so many opportunities to live out the gospel during the months of summer. And I’d like to suggest one more.

How about being pilgrims?

“Pilgrims?” you ask. “We haven’t been pilgrims since the second grade Thanksgiving pageant at Our Lady of the Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy Rosary! And those pilgrim hats don’t fit anymore.”

The pilgrims I’m talking about don’t need big paper hats … although that would be pretty cool if you wore them anyways. For most Americans, pilgrims merely call to mind turkeys and costumes. But our faith has a rich and wondrous tradition of pilgrimage. Believers throughout the ages have traveled to holy places to pay their respects – Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella, Lourdes, Rome and Jerusalem. They journey to sites of significance, where saints have lived and martyrs have fallen, where God appeared and Jesus walked.

The journey occurs on two levels. On the exterior, pilgrims physically move together towards their destination. But the interior pilgrimage is more important. In it, the pilgrims sojourn through reflection; they explore themselves before moving outside to encounter together the Lord who creates and controls their destiny. When the pilgrims return, even though they come back to the same place they left, they are, in fact, transformed by the interior and exterior pilgrimage into stronger believers and better leaders.

Fortunately this tradition continues in Catholicism. This summer it will be alive and well in the city of Cologne, Germany. Cologne is the site of World Youth Day 2005 on Aug. 21. On that day, the pope will say Mass with a million pilgrims or more who’ve traveled from all over the world to celebrate the faith in community. These pilgrims will enjoy a week of festivities beforehand: praying, listening to speakers and sharing their experiences with Catholics from around the world.

I attended the last World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 as a student. Through the pilgrimage I gained several new friends from Notre Dame and elsewhere. And, by voyaging to the place, by participating in the Mass with our incredible pope, we all felt a new sense of life and a challenge to carry it back with us. The people I went with returned to campus and became some of its greatest leaders. The pilgrimage’s influence was remarkable.

Cologne is calling, and this pilgrimage makes the same promise. Campus Ministry is organizing a contingent to go once more. Parishes, dioceses and groups all over the country are gearing up for the journey. I encourage you to consider joining all of us as pilgrims. Check with your diocese back home. Pick up an application to be part of Campus Ministry’s group at our website wyd.nd.edu. You’d be back in time for classes to start, and you’d be a better person for it.

Like I said, summer’s coming and it’s time to start making choices.

So what are you planning to do with yourself?

Greg Ruehlmann works for Campus Ministry. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.