Friday, May 18, 2018

Increase in pilgrimages prompts Church of England to send chaplains to Spain

Millennials and other pilgrims are trying to fill their spiritual vacuum with man-made religious exercises instead of the grace of God. They may be travelling through France and Spain now, but eventually they'll end up in Rome. As reported by Olivia Rudgard of the London Daily Telegraph, May 4, 2018 (links in original):

A millennial on a post-university gap year might not fit the obvious profile for a religious pilgrim travelling through Europe.

But growing numbers of of then are following a trend for pilgrimage - prompting the Church of England to send chaplains to fulfil their spiritual needs.

For the first time Anglican priests from England as well as sister churches in Canada and Australia will minister to people who have completed the Camino de Santiago, a voyage of hundreds of miles across France and Spain which is normally undertaken on foot.

The Rev Alasdair Kay, a Church of England priest based in Derbyshire, suggested the project after completing the walk himself during a sabbatical.

Many of the English-speaking pilgrims he encountered were "millennials, post-university" who were searching for spiritual meaning in life and needed guidance, he told the Daily Telegraph.

"'I've got my degree, but I haven't sorted out who I am or what I want to do with my life'", was a common theme, he said, adding that many of those he spoke to were not explicitly Christian but were interested in faith.

They were "finding spirituality in and through nature", and wanted "more dialogue and much less dogma," he said.

"There is a spirituality amongst millennials. They wanted to talk about prayer, they wanted to talk about spiritual experience, they wanted to talk about Jesus."

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage to the burial site of the Apostle St James, whose body is said to have been brought to Santiago de Compostela following his martyrdom in 44 AD.

Pilgrims have travelled to the city since the medieval era. Numbers fell to a few hundred in the 1980s but a boom in popularity has seen them rise to 300,000 by last year.

Figures show that the number of people under 30 who undertake the pilgrimage has more than doubled in a decade, from almost 35,000 in 2007 to 84,000 in 2017, and this age group makes up almost one in three pilgrims on the route.

British pilgrims are also growing in number, from 1,700 in 2007 to 5,768 last year, according to statistics from the Oficina del Peregrino, which welcomes pilgrims who arrive at the journey's end point, the city of Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain.

The Catholic church provides mass and chaplaincy to pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela and is understood to be supportive of the new scheme to provide services and spiritual guidance for Anglicans and English-speaking Christians of other denominations.

A female Canadian priest has already travelled to the city to begin a 12 week pilot, and Mr Kay is due to join her in June.

A group of Church of England priests are then due to pick the role up in the Autumn after a break for the summer, when the hot weather means few English-speaking pilgrims take on the trip.

Each chaplain would be there for around two weeks, celebrating the Eucharist on Sundays and praying with pilgrims.

Many pilgrims are also workers in the financial services industry who were asking "I've got all this wealth, but why am I alive?", Mr Kay added.

"That was a big modern pain that I hadn't been aware of."

Some travellers are also on the cusp of retirement, had lost loved ones, or recently been diagnosed with or recovered from a life-threatening illness.

Archdeacon of Gibraltar Geoff Johnston, who has oversight of the project, said: “Some people are still searching for some spirituality in their lives, and sometimes the traditional church doesn't resonate with them, but other things could help them to become closer to some kind of spiritual life, and to God, and taking part in a pilgrimage makes them think about what life is about."

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