Construir a paz nas mentes dos homens e das mulheres

The Pilgrim's way

Pilgrimages began long ago. In most religions they are times of intense spiritual feeling. They also have political implications.

They kindle the collective imagination around a holy place that is charged with symbolism, a site associated with crucial moments in the life of a religion. The act of pilgrimage intensifies the personal faith of believers and strengthens their bonds of fidelity to their community.

By their very nature, therefore, places of pilgrimage ought to be outside the arena of temporal ambitions and rivalries. But, as we know, this is not always the case. Because those who control centres of pilgrimage are invested with prestige and even moral legitimacy to an exceptional degree, these holy places have sometimes become pawns in power struggles and triggers of confrontation.

Throughout history people of all sorts and conditions, inspired by authentic religious fervour, have gone off to make war on others over a city or a mountain, a cave or a valley a site which both sides considered to be sacred.

How could these men, who suffered the most gruelling hardships, in many cases leading to mystical experiences, go so far as to kill each other in order to gain possession of places there was every reason for them to share and honour together?

This agonizing question, so often pondered in the past, is posed with renewed force today. In our age of paradox and contradiction, horizons broaden for everyone and yet solitude and insecurity increase. All over the world, opportunities for meeting others, for self-expression and mutual understanding are so often thwarted by impulses to ignore or reject others, even to risk mutual destruction.

The great centres of pilgrimage where the symbolic pathways of different religious communities have overlapped since ancient times must cease to be flashpoints of contention between these communities. They should provide the faithful of all denominations with an opportunity to achieve reconciliation by rediscovering, through their different forms of religious symbolism, the meaning of their common attachment to the same holy site. In so doing they will provide the rest of the world with new reasons to believe in the unity of humankind.

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May 1995