Micro pilgrimages progress in post-Covid landscape

The growth in the numbers of people making pilgrimages, including both devout and unchurched seekers, shows no signs of letting up, but since Covid “micro pilgrimages” are becoming more popular, writes Anne Bailey in the open-access journal Religions (July 20). A micro or “mini” pilgrimage usually can be completed in one day or less and is particularly popular in the UK; in the spring of 2022, six micro pilgrimages took place in southern England. In the wake of Covid, even Pope Francis talked about undertaking micro pilgrimages. The idea was to avoid the outbreaks of mass gatherings while still maintaining some collective rituals and group activities. During the pandemic, many people also ceased long-distance travel and took walks in their own natural habitats and surrounding areas, while others undertook virtual pilgrimages. Engaging in “mindfulness” while walking—a key concept in making pilgrimages—became both a therapeutic and spiritual practice for many during the pandemic. With the absence of tour groups, the pilgrimage and tourist industries have also been amenable to the idea of micro pilgrimages. Outside of the UK, the prominent Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes offered a paired down version of the practice called “Pilgrim for the Day.”

Source: Ways to Grow in God.

But Bailey writes that micro pilgrimages are not really a new phenomenon. While long and arduous pilgrimages became famous, even in the Middle Ages shorter trips to more local sites, often offering healing and veneration of relics, were popular and drew considerable devotion. Protestants and New Age proponents have tended to favor walking pilgrimages (rather than pilgrimages to a sacred site) and may be the forerunners of the micro walking pilgrimage. Bailey concludes that the pandemic has made micro pilgrimages a practice that will endure past the health crisis since it is seen as spiritually beneficial to pilgrims from both religious and non-religious backgrounds. Another article appearing in Religions (June 7) looks at a famously long pilgrimage, the Way of St. James in Spain, and finds that Covid has also brought changes to that centuries-old practice. Piotr Roszak and Tomasz Huzarek write that health regulations and the psychological effects of the pandemic changed both the hosts and pilgrims on the “Camino” (or “way”) in ways that will have a long-term impact. The authors note that pandemics have occurred before on the Camino de Santiago, but Covid public health precautions have made the safety and health of pilgrims (such as in places of accommodation) more prominent. The concern over spreading the virus promoted greater isolation and individualism among pilgrims, who focused on private spiritual exercises over the longstanding communal aspects of the pilgrimage, including liturgical devotions (such as Masses) on the Camino. But Roszak and Huzarek conclude that the pandemic may have created a “new kind of asceticism,” with pilgrims making an effort to regain the sense of community and relationships that have been an historic part of the Camino.

(Religions, https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/13/7/665)