Are pilgrimages to religious sites reasonable in today's society?
Father Peter Garry, pastor, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Southold:
While I've never led one, I have been on a pilgrimage. There is such a reward you can receive from going to a place rather than just seeing a photo of it or reading about it online. I have visited a few religious sites, and to be able to walk the same paths these people walked . . .
I, along with other priests, visited St. Francis of Assisi in the mountains of Italy, about an hour and a half outside Rome. You go to the chapel where St. Francis started. You're worn out from walking. But, once you get there and experience the beauty and the simplicity of the countryside, you feel the specialness of the area. You feel the warmth and love the community has for the saint.
Even the first time I visited St. Francis of Assisi, when I traveled there with my mother while we were visiting a niece studying in Italy, it was moving. You don't need a guide to tell you how special the place is.
Imam Dr. Muhammad Jabbar, Masjid Darul Quran, The Muslim Center of Long Island, Bay Shore:
I have been to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In Islam, it is a religious obligation to take a pilgrimage to Mecca for those who can. If you don't have the resources, you don't have to go. But, if you have the resources, are in good health and have no concerns for your security, as a Muslim, you should go at least once in a lifetime.
While some may go as a tourist, the pilgrimage is for self-purification and to fulfill a religious obligation.
The value of it is a combination of many things. It is walking in the house of God, the ritual of going around it seven times. It also is the taking of the water.
Going there is an expression of strength and integrity of your faith. To go is to see millions of people of your faith and feel a part of a great nation. There also are the prayers, listening to the speeches, walking in the steps of others. It all gives strength to your spirituality.
Rabbi Philip Weintraub, South Baldwin Jewish Center, Baldwin:
I was on one recently to Israel, so I would say "yes." Whether you're going for spiritual, emotional or historical reasons or just to make a connection, all are valid and important reasons for a pilgrimage.
People always make choices of how they spend their money, and I wouldn't tell them how to do it. If you're looking for a different way to connect to your heritage, to your faith, to God, you should go on a pilgrimage. Jews don't have that many sacred places other than Israel. Some do go to the graves of famous people, graves of rabbis, but that has never been a mainstream practice.
For me, the Western Wall/Wailing Wall is not the only reason to go. I go to see the wilderness of Israel, the hiking, swimming, being a part of the land.
In Hebrew, there is a word aveerah, which means the air, the atmosphere, the feeling. Going to Israel is not just about the land, but the people. You're no longer the minority, but part of the majority. For a Jew, that is a different experience, even if you're a Jew on Long Island. Maybe that's how a Catholic might feel going to Rome.
There is a classic story about a father and a son arguing about the son wanting to go out to the woods to pray. The father says it dangerous and the words are the same wherever you are. The son replies, "But, Father, I'm different in that place."
Vito Benenati, Baha'is of the Town of Hempstead, Valley Stream:
I've been to the Baha'i World Center in Haifa in Northern Israel a couple of times. You can't do a pilgrimage on the Internet. Being there is very different from just viewing pictures.
For anyone who is spiritually/religiously connected to the places that they revere, it is a profound experience. As Baha'is, we see all religions as a progressive unfolding of God's religion. It was moving and spiritual to see the holy places of the Jews, Christians and Muslims on my way to the World Center. We recognize the holiness of all those sacred spots.
For me, going to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Jordan River and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, all these holy places were very moving. As a Baha'i, we accept all these religions. These places are all sacred to us.
The process of visiting the holy sites of the faiths that came before Baha'i strengthened my belief in the one true faith. There is a connection between all the major faiths. The most recent faith accepts all those that came before. It is a building process and a progression. These holy sites are important to members of their faith, but they're also important to me as a Baha'i. The unity of mankind as an outcome will be an outcome of understanding the unity of God's religions.