Has the pandemic prepared us for pilgrimages?

We’re hungrier than ever for physicality, place, and embodiment.

Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated folks could safely get back on airplanes, travel is surging. But where will people go, and why? What difference will our long sabbatical from travel make? And how might people of faith respond to our liberation from sheltering in place?

To many of us, “leisure travel” now sounds strange. If we are not essential workers and have not had school-age children at home, we may have had more leisure than we could bear. Travel, however, can also embody a spiritual quest. For centuries spiritual seekers and faithful followers practiced this: they embarked on pilgrimages. I’ve come to regard pilgrimage as a journey with a holy purpose to a place of spiritual significance.

In 2019, a record 347,578 pilgrims received their Compostela, an official certificate signifying they had traversed at least 100 kilometers, and usually much more, on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. They came from all corners of the world—including more than 20,000 from the United States, where interest in the Camino has dramatically increased since the 2010 film The Way.