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Saints and Martyrs made us Pilgrims

Those who mourn will be comforted, Jesus assures us from the top of the Beatitude Mountain, and think of the thousands who have gone on pilgrimage crying and with a heavy heart, and many of them got such a wonderful experience there that they really got comforted.

Saints and Martyrs made us Pilgrims

By Joe Palathunkal
Can you just think of the total number of pilgrims flocking to the tombs and churches of saints annually? Guadalupe alone has a whopping 12 million and back in India Goa, Velankanni, Mylapore, Malayattoor and Bharananganam will not lag much behind.

Forget about 12 million, make it one hundred thousand for every Catholic pilgrimage centre dedicated to a saint or martyr and multiply it with roughly 2000 the number of saints, the total number of pilgrims annually may engorge to millions and even billions. And that is what saints and martyrs have done to the Catholic pilgrimage around the world.



Something very striking about all these pilgrim centres is that it is the confluence of foreigners and strangers, yet they all bow to a saint without being even aware of that they are strangers to each other and it is at the pilgrim centres the Church truly becomes catholic in the etymological sense of the word.

And even the word pilgrim comes from the old French “pelerin” which means stranger or foreigner, and its Latin counterpart “peregrinus” also means the same. So saints and martyrs change us from being strangers to friends in Jesus Christ which is the urgent call in today’s divided world where hates, fights and spites go on in the name of whatever the saints stood against. What first John 3: 1 – 3 tells us we must all bear in mind: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”



The gospel for All Saints Day tells us exactly how these saints and martyrs made us pilgrims. The Beatitudes in Matthew give us a portrait of a saint and martyr by calling them “Blessed” and the reasons for calling them so and when we look deep into the Beatitudes we will realize why and how these saints and martyrs made us pilgrims.



Etymologically the French root “pelerin” also means a crusader, yes, a crusader against all that is inhuman. ‘The poor in spirit’ are crusaders against greed that makes one hoard everything for oneself forgetting his or her brothers and sisters who cry out of gnawing hunger. Saints lived that poor in spirit and as a pilgrim everyone has to practice it at least as a situational imperative because he has to leave behind his home and possessions for the pilgrimage.

Those who mourn will be comforted, Jesus assures us from the top of the Beatitude Mountain, and think of the thousands who have gone on pilgrimage crying and with a heavy heart, and many of them got such a wonderful experience there that they really got comforted.

Jesus has said very clearly that only the meek will inherit the earth, those who have the humility to share their wealth with the ones having less or not having at all. When we take the bulk of the nations of the world, we find that the Christian nations are much better of economically, socially and politically; then see their spirit of sharing with the less fortunate nations of the world in various ways. Almost all the canonized saints are from the Christian west.



These saints inspire us to share with others and even on the pilgrimage people share things with others and every Catholic pilgrimage centre makes the pilgrim remember the sharing spirit of the saint whom they venerate and he or she shared because they were meek to accept that all are fellow humans who are in need.



In fact, Sermon on the Mountain was the greatest canonization ceremony ever held in history and Jesus declared in unambiguous terms that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and the ones persecuted for righteousness sake, are all saints including those who suffer persecutions and false allegations “on my account”. Was there any better canonization ceremony?

Even John Bunyan who wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress” suffered persecution in the form of imprisonment for preaching Jesus without license. All the saints and martyrs when they call us to their revered centres, they are telling us that we need to be the people of the Beatitudes if we want to be children of God and followers of Jesus.



This is the way of the pilgrim, a way to the Beatitudes, to climb the mountain and listen to Jesus in rapt attention as all the saints did throughout their life. That is why saints make us pilgrims and that is why T. S Eliot wrote: “King is forgotten when another shall come Saint and martys rule from the tomb.”

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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