Paulist pilgrims ‘find God in all places’
A pilgrimage usually means a physical journey to find spiritual renewal at a holy place, but 39 Paulist pilgrims experienced a different kind of voyage during this year’s expedition in faith: a cruise through Scandinavia and Russia.
The Paulist pilgrim group arrived in Copenhagen on May 21 and traveled through the predominantly Lutheran countries of Denmark, Germany, Finland and Sweden as well as the mainly Orthodox countries of Estonia and Russia. The 12-day journey ended June 1.
Lucy Delgado from Hoboken, NJ (left), Hildi Keary from Boston, Mass., and Mary Tansey from Berkeley, Calif., experience Copenhagen, Denmark, through a canal cruise at the beginning of the 2012 Paulist Pilgrimage.
This was a unique experience in that it was not an obvious pilgrimage, according to Father Larry Rice, CSP, the main chaplain on the pilgrimage who also serves as first consultor of the Paulist Fathers.
“Rather than traveling to obvious holy sites and shrines, we were traveling to explore the faith of the people of Scandinavia,” he said. “Seeing their faith reflected in the art, architecture and culture while also realizing that for most of the population of the countries we visited, religious faith is not a significant factor in their lives day to day. Still, there are very strong remnants of that faith.”
Mike and Kathleen Lossau of Buda, Tex., pose outside of Holy Cross Abbey in Rostock, Germany during Paulist Pilgrimage 2012.
The pilgrims gathered for Mass each day, often joined by other cruse ship passengers to make a standing room-only crowd. The group chaplains also offered talks on the basics of Lutheranism and Orthodox Christianity, and the catholicity of all Christians.
The pilgrims then experienced firsthand the information offered in the talks offered at places like the historic Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen and the sublimely beautiful Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) in Helsinki.
A photo of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia.
More than 80 percent of the citizens of these countries identify as Lutheran*, but attendance at weekend services is sparse––a fact that surprised first-time Paulist pilgrim Bob Schweizer.
“Less than five percent go to church on the weekends,” said Mr. Schweizer, a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle Chapel in Horseshoe Bay, Tex. “With information like that, I had a hard time connecting with the pilgrimage at first, but the chaplains did a great job of focusing on what pilgrimage is supposed to be.”
In St. Petersburg, the pilgrims visited the fantastically ornate Church on Spilled Blood and Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of Peter the Great and the descendants of the Romanov dynasty he founded that ruled Imperial Russia for more than 300 years.
Father Larry Rice, CSP, the Paulist pilgrims and other passengers aboard the Norwegian Sun cruise ship celebrate Mass during Paulist Pilgrimage 2012.
“Russia seemed so mysterious and like new territory because it had been closed off for so long,” explained veteran Paulist pilgrim Mary Tansey from Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish at the University of California at Berkeley. “I am really glad I got to experience the Russian people. [The Christian faith] is coming back to Russia. There is no doubt. The faith has been kept alive; the flame is there.”
Ms. Tansey said the fact that the group visited fewer churches than on past pilgrimages made her take to heart the chaplains’ suggestion to go inward and find God in unexpected times and places.
Whether it was happening upon a funeral at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia, a red-on-white sign at a constriction site for a new Orthodox church in St. Petersburg proclaiming “Christ is Risen” or the word God spelled out in golden Hebrew in an otherwise traditionally stark Lutheran cathedral, the pilgrims were “traveling to find God in all places and in all things,” according to Ms. Tansey.
The burial site of Czar Nicholas II and his family in Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nicolas, the last Russian emperor, and his family were killed during the Russian Revolution that begain in 1917. The family are now Russian Orthodox saints.
For Father Rice, the pilgrimage kept the flame of faith burning for the growth of Christianity in this region of the world.
“Especially in places like St. Petersburg, where religious observance of any kind was actively discouraged, I think that there is hope for a resurrection.”
*Source: US State Department reports confirmed by native tour guides
Pilgrims attend Mass