Chaplaincy Returns to International Pilgrimages

May 22, 2023

The purpose of the Office of the Chaplaincy’s Pilgrimage program is to help students grow in their faith, to deepen religious and spiritual life on campus, and to learn from others in communities around the world. Pilgrimages are open to full-time, undergraduate students of all faith backgrounds.

This spring, the Chaplaincy returned to hosting international travel following a three-year hiatus for COVID-19. During spring break, two groups of pilgrims traveled to Spain and Germany as part of a semester-long class and cohort experience.

Pilgrimage: Camino de Santiago traveled March 4-12 on a walking pilgrimage along the last 100 kilometers of the Portuguese Coastal Route of the Camino de Santiago. Participants hiked an average of 12-15 miles per day as they journeyed from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela, arriving at the Cathedral where the bones of St. James are believed to be buried. 

Led by Chaplain Craig Kocher and Associate Chaplain Bryn Taylor, the pilgrimage team consisted of an ecumenical group of eight Protestant and Catholic students who explored the concept of pilgrimage, the religious, cultural, and aesthetic landscape of Spain, and the rich Catholic spirituality that has shaped the Camino for many centuries.  Throughout the course, participants studied and cultivated spiritual practices that were implemented in the pilgrimage experience.  The course culminated in participants’ developing a rhythm of life intended to sustain their faith, health, and well-being both now and in the future.

Pilgrimage: Berlin traveled March 3-12, and spent the duration of the trip in the German capital. This immersive experience allowed the team to explore the city's efforts toward remembrance and reconciliation following the traumatic events of the Holocaust, World War II, and the Cold War. The group also connected to broader themes of trauma, healing, and the role multifaith dialogue might play in advancing a just society.

Of particular interest was the way narratives surrounding Nazi Germany and the Holocaust appear today in American discourse and in conversations surrounding Israel and Palestine. In addition to visiting nearly a dozen museums - including the Jewish Museum of Berlin and the Berlin Wall Museum – the group met with members of Berlin’s significant refugee community as well as Israelis and Palestinians living in the city. Students developed an appreciation for the influence that narratives of the Holocaust have on current events and the role of memory in shaping and affecting individual and group identities 

Upon returning to campus, the nine pilgrims of various faith backgrounds worked with Jewish Chaplain Josh Jeffreys and Bonner Center’s Kim Dean-Anderson to share their learnings with the UR community. The students hosted “An Interactive Exploration of Collective Trauma, Memory, and Memorialization” on Tuesday, April 18 in the Wilton Center. 

Following commencement, Chaplains Kocher and Taylor led a group of seven students on pilgrimage to Wyoming.  Participants stayed in the Thomas the Apostle Retreat Center in Cody, Wyoming, enjoying several hikes in Yellowstone Valley before visiting Yellowstone National Park for two days. This May domestic pilgrimage complemented the fall pilgrimage led by Chaplain for Spiritual Life Jamie Lynn Haskins and Muslim Chaplain Waleed Ilyas to Coastal Carolina. During this pilgrimage, participants learned and engaged in the spiritual practices of yoga and meditation. (The Carolina trip was originally scheduled as an international pilgrimage to Costa Rica, and you can read more about the experience in our Fall 2022 edition.)

As Pilgrimage is a metaphor for life, the Chaplaincy looks forward to continuing to process these experiences and the lessons learned even as we plan for exciting new pilgrimages for the 2023-2024 academic year.