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A Pilgrimage to the Son  
Barbara Matera  

Pilgrimages have long been part of our Catholic tradition. The faithful travel to holy places—great cathedrals, sites of Marian apparitions, and the land where our Lord walked. In our day, World Youth Day pilgrims converge on a designated city seeking community, prayer, and Mass with the Holy Father; and that city becomes a holy place.

The beginning of the catechetical year is a good time to introduce the experience of pilgrimage by taking the children to the holy place where we gather in community for Mass—our parish church building.

Explain that a pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, and that we pray both while we travel and when we arrive. Depending on the route you will take, you may ask the children to sing, recite prayers, or walk in silence.

As you enter the church, stop at the holy water font. What should we do here? Why would we do this? Tell the children that this is a reminder of our Baptism with water “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All can take a turn dipping two fingers of the right hand into the holy water and making the Sign of the Cross.

Stop for a visit at the baptismal font and let any children who have witnessed a Baptism recall what they have seen. Emphasize the many gifts this sacrament offers to the newly baptized—the light of Christ, symbolized by a small candle lit from the Paschal Candle; the white garment, an external sign of the light that fills the baptized person; water, a visible sign of the passage through death to new life in Christ; the Word of God, always proclaimed as part of the rite; the oils, used to strengthen the person to turn from sin, and to anoint the baptized as priest, prophet, and king; and the Sign of the Cross that claims the baptized person for Christ and blesses the gathered assembly.

If the sacristy is accessible, show the children the vestments worn by the priest. Talk about the reason for the different colors and the liturgical seasons when Father wears each one. Why would white be used for our most sacred feasts? Why does red symbolize the Holy Spirit? How can the green of Ordinary Time signal a time of growth in our faith and our commitment to follow Jesus? Can the Gospel accounts of Ordinary Time—recounting the public life of Jesus, his preaching, teaching, and miracles—help us to grow in faith?

Visit the place in your church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. Show the children the tabernacle, and explain that its contents are kept under lock and key. What kinds of things do we keep under lock and key? What could be so valuable that it is kept in this special place? Explain that consecrated hosts are kept in the tabernacle in case a sick person who cannot come to Mass requests that someone bring Holy Communion. There is always a light burning to indicate that Christ, the Light of the World, is truly present in the consecrated hosts. This light—usually colored red—is called the sanctuary lamp. In any Catholic Church, even a cathedral with many altars, it is possible to find the sanctuary lamp and to know that this is the location of the Blessed Sacrament. Many people like to pray in this special place.

Teach the children that at the tabernacle, where the Lord is present, we make a prayer gesture. Slowly and reverently, demonstrate how to genuflect. Ask the children to describe the motion. What did it look like I was doing? Why would I make myself little? In what situation might we make such a gesture? Before a King? Why did I make that gesture here? Invite each child to genuflect before the tabernacle.

Show the children the lectern, from which the Word of God is proclaimed. Remind them that Jesus is also present to us in the Word, and that this presence is often symbolized by a lit candle near the lectern during the part of the Mass when we listen to the Word.

Finally, lead the children to the church's main altar. Ask the children to watch you as you bow deeply at the waist. When would we normally bow? Why do you think we bow here? Explain that, out of reverence for the sacrifice of the Mass that is offered here, we bow before the altar where Jesus becomes food and drink for us. Have each child bow before the altar before leaving church.

Our goal for the children, as for all pilgrims, is that they have a personal encounter not just with the space, but with the Lord, whose presence permeates the space.

Barbara Matera
is the coordinator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. John Neumann parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and teaches training courses for new catechists.
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