Christian Pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Remaining descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by the early fathers of the Church like Saint Jerome.
Pilgrimages or holy journeys also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the first Apostles, saints and maryrs or witnesses to Christ as well as to places where there have been apparitions or appearances of the the Blessed Virgin Mary. The crusades to the Holy Land were considered to be a kind of military pilgrimage.
The second largest single pilgrimage in the history of the Christian story was to the funeral of the late Pope John Paul II after his death on 5 April 2005. An estimated four million people travelled to St Peter's Basilica, Rome, in addition to the almost three million people already living in Rome, to see the body of the Holy Father lie in state.
The major Christian pilgrimages are to:
The Holy Land, location of many events in the Old Testament and New Testament:
-Jerusalem, site of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.
-Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus and King David.
-Nazareth, hometown of Jesus
-Sea of Galilee, site of Jesus' early ministry.
-Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration
-Bethany, site of the resurrection of Lazarus
World Youth Day is a major Catholic Pilgrimage, specifically for people aged 16-35. It is held internationally every 2-3 years. In 2008, young Catholics visited Sydney, Australia. In 1995, the largest gathering of all time was to World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines, where four million people from all over the world attended. The next such gathering will take place in Madrid 2011, and for which a group from our diocese will attend and shall start preparing for from March 2010.
Rome, Site of the glorious martyrdoms of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and other early martyrs who spread the Gospel and layed down the faith we know and cherish today. It is the location of relics of various saints, relics of the Passion, important churches. and provides much of the foundation to our rich and glorious tradition, and so is heart of the Roman Catholic Church.
Constantinople (today Istanbul, Turkey). Former capital of the eastern sector of the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire and the see of one of the five ancient Patriarchates and first among equals among the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Hagia Sophia, former cathedral and burial place of many Ecumenical Patriarchs.
Lourdes, France - the place where we mark several apparitions of Our Lady to St. Bernedette. This is the second most popular Christian pilgrimage site after Rome. Our own diocese undertakes an annual pilgrimage here.
Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain) on the Way of St James (Galician O Camiño de Santiago). This famous medieval pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James is still popular for walkers today. Many of whom still follow the ancient routes from Cluny, living in temporal poverty on route.
Fátima, in Portugal we honour Our Lady of Fatima. Patroness of Portugal. She appeared to three shepherd children at Fátima on the 13th day of six consecutive months in 1917.