To prepare for the blessing of our World Youth Day pilgrims at Mass this morning, I decided to do a bit of research. I started with the ecumenical councils, the great gatherings of bishops that have guided the Church through history.
The first reference to pilgrims was at the First Lateran Council in 1123. That council excommunicated anyone who tried to rob them. This will probably not protect our young people from pickpockets. The Third Lateran Council, also held in the twelfth century, excommunicates anyone who disturbs pilgrims. That threat probably won't stop someone keeping our pilgrims awake by singing in the streets of Cracow.
Only in our time, at the Second Vatican Council, did my research turn up more inspiring words.
In its decree on the sacred liturgy, Vatican II says that as we worship here "we strive as pilgrims" towards Jerusalem, the heavenly city (SC 8). The decree on the Church says that we follow in the footsteps of Christ "while we are still making our pilgrimage on earth" (LG 7).
In that same decree, the council speaks of "the pilgrim Church" (LG 48) and tells us that "in her motherly love" Mary looks after the brothers and sisters of her son during their pilgrimage through life, with all its dangers and difficulties, "until they are led to their heavenly homeland" (LG 62).
The conciliar decree on the laity calls the lay faithful to devote themselves generously to spreading the kingdom of God "in the pilgrimage of this life," and to shape the secular world with the Christian spirit. (AA 4).
The pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world says that our community "is composed of people united in Christ who are directed by the Holy Spirit in their pilgrimage towards the Father's kingdom" (GS 1). And even though we are on a pilgrimage to the heavenly city, we are called to build a better world on earth (GS 57).
Small wonder, then, that our parish rejoices to see eighteen young adults embark on a pilgrimage--a symbol of the Church's journey towards God and of their own walk of faith.
St. John Paul, whom our World Youth Day travelers will certainly encounter in Poland, called pilgrimages "a work of grace." As we bless our young pilgrims at Mass this morning, we pray that they will not only experience many graces but return safely to share them with us.