Pilgrimage: an Ancient and Present Reality

Father Caesar Atuire Talks About His Experiences

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By Luca Marcolivio

ROME, APRIL 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A book titled “Pilgrimage: The Journey of Life” (Fivestore), by Father Caesar Atuire, will soon be published in Italy. He is the head of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP).

The book is a reflection on the practice of pilgrimage. The points addressed in the book are essentially five: 1) Who are the pilgrims of the 21st century; 2) What do pilgrims seek?; 3-4) When and where should one go on pilgrimage; 5) How should one live a pilgrimage.

ZENIT: Father Caesar, how is your book structured?

Father Atuire: I structured it according to the form of American journalism, through the famous 5 “Ws,” that is, the who, what, why, where and when of a pilgrimage. I also inserted in the text letters that have arrived at the ORP over the last 4-5 years, in which pilgrims describe the experiences lived in the different sacred places.

In the last part of the book I make some final considerations: pilgrimage is evolving towards the search of something deeper and always more personalized, it is no longer a mass phenomenon, rather, it is becoming similar to pilgrimages of some time ago; it becomes an occasion to educate to awareness of global citizenship.

ZENIT: Do pilgrims of today seek the same things as pilgrims in the past?

Father Atuire: There are no anthropological differences between pilgrims of in the past and of today. No doubt there are differences of ways, in the expressions and manifestations. Pilgrimages did not start with Christianity; it is widespread in the Jewish religion, the Islamic and the Buddhist. The Christian pilgrimage, in the wake of the Jewish tradition, is a visit to places where God has manifested himself or where someone has lived Christian holiness in a special way. Therefore, the first pilgrims went to the Holy Land to know the places of the earthly life of Jesus or they went to the desert where Saint Anthony Abbot lived or other great monks, to know the life of these great persons and to be closer to God. The tombs of the Apostles – such as that of Santiago de Compostela – and of martyrs, are places that attest to a holy life.

Today this type of search is more subtle, one does not go to Santiago to get relics to keep at home. Whoever is seeking something, has understood that there is a wider horizon than the one we live in. They are looking for a new way of living and of interpreting one’s life in the light of the faith, and also in the light of a human anthropological experience.

ZENIT: Is it possible to speak of pilgrimage as a vocation?

Father Atuire: If we wish to speak of vocation, then it is a question of a universal vocation, such as the call to sanctity (cf. Lumen Gentium). It is a metaphor for each one of us: each of us enters into a new world, is on pilgrimage, goes to encounter God, in the hope that it will be a happy encounter.

ZENIT: You are a native of Ghana and have been living in Rome for many years, directing an organization of the Holy See that accompanies pilgrims throughout the world: hence you live your priestly ministry from a “Catholic” point of view in the strictest sense of the term, namely, universal. At times there are those who accuse the Church of excessive ecumenism and of taking little account of the specificities of peoples and of traditions, aiming always at levelling the differences and of “globalizing.” Is this affirmation credible?

Father Atuire: It seems a superficial affirmation. The Church begins from a universal message (from whence the adjective “Catholic”). Christ’s message is salvation for the whole of humanity. This premise having been made, the cultural expressions are respected. The richness of catholicity stems from the multiplicity of intentions and expressions of this same faith.

I have just returned from Ghana, where the Mass I celebrated, which lasted two and a half hours, where there was singing and dancing, was no less Catholic than the Mass I celebrated in San Giovanni de’ Fiorentini in Rome, where no one dances but everyone prayed with the same faith. This is the richness of Catholicism: it allows the diversity of sensibilities and of expressions within the same faith. The Gospels themselves are four and not one: each one of them has a different accentuation of the experience of Jesus Christ and together are the corpus of the faith.

An activity we promote during pilgrimages of the ORP are meetings with the local communities to seek to share their life and be enriched by their experience. In Palestine we were able to attend a Mass in Arabic, with songs in Arabic: we attended in another language the same Mass that we hear every Sunday in our parish. Entering into their expressiveness is a moving experience.

ZENIT: Just recently Cardinal Rylko said the time is ripe for a World Youth Day in an African country.

Father Atuire: The times were always ripe. There is a young and growing Church in Africa, which lives the faith with great enthusiasm which can infect the world.

ZENIT: We are nearing Easter: from what must the man of today rise again?

Father Atuire: The experience of Easter should lead us to the theological virtues. Faith is in need of being reinvigorated. The Son of God comes crushed by the forces of evil, which, however, did not have the last word and Love was stronger, opening the tomb and making a dead man come out: this is our faith. It revolves around the Resurrection: Saint Paul himself affirms that if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain *cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17).

Hope must give us the certainty that we are with God, no evil can defeat us. Hence, to open oneself to new horizons is a rather necessary virtue at this time in which we risk living under a cloud of pessimism, with the constant anguish that things will go from bad to worse: this isn’t true! We can even come to have less money but not necessarily be less happy.

Charity reminds us that, above all on difficult subjects, we cannot deceive ourselves thinking that we can save ourselves on our own. Our salvation passes also through the salvation of our brothers.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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