Newman Club, Willamette University’s Catholic club, hosted its second pilgrimage event of the academic year last Saturday, March 9. At 6 a.m., around 80 people arrived at St. Joseph Parish in Salem to walk the 24 mile pilgrimage to The Brigittine Monastery in Amity, OR. Members of the Salem community, as well as students from WU, Portland State University, University of Portland, Corbin University and Chemeketa Community College, attended the event.
Willamette’s Newman Club provides Catholic fellowship to students on campus through weekly meetings, service projects and spiritual retreats, according to the University’s website. Newman is a national organization with centers at non-Catholic universities across the country. Willamette’s Newman Club receives much of its funding from the archdiocese, and works closely with St. Joseph Parish on Chemeketa St., which is about a 10-minute walk from campus. St. Joseph Parish provides the club with support from the Parish priest, Father Jonah Lynch.
Estefanía Ramos Torres (‘20) is the co-president of Willamette’s Newman Club. Torres said Father Lynch came up with the idea to host a pilgrimage last fall, and asked Willamette students to help organize it.
The first pilgrimage was on Nov. 2, 2018, or All Souls’ Day.
“In the Catholic church,” said Torres, All Souls’ Day is “the day you remember your loved ones who passed away.”
This holiday coincides with the end of the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Torres said several people walked the pilgrimage in remembrance of those who have passed.
In this first pilgrimage, she said, “There was this 70-something year-old couple, they were walking it for their daughter who had passed away recently. They finished.” The overnight, 20.6 mile walk, called “All Saints. All Souls. All Sinners,” spanned from Salem to Mt. Angel, OR.
This weekend’s pilgrimage, however, was a more cheerful affair. This walk was to commemorate the beginning of Lent, which started on Wednesday, March 6. This pilgrimage was in the daytime, and included music and Scripture readings. Torres said the group played music and recited prayers in multiple languages during the walk. “The event was bringing Vietnamese, Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon communities all together as one,” she said.
Pilgrimage is a long-standing tradition in the Catholic church, with roots in the Middle Ages. Then, as well as now, Torres said, people have participated in pilgrimage as a form of penitence. She compared the difficult act of walking a pilgrimage to religious fasting: “You see a moment of torture in one’s self… The feeling of physical pain is also a symbol of that, of the penitence, of the suffering.”
However, she added, walking is not just about suffering. “It’s not only a penitence,” she said, “but it’s also a way of prayer. Usually you think of prayer as sitting down and praying… In this case, you see prayer in a form of walking. It’s like every step is a prayer. It’s a moment of reflection.”
Willamette’s Newman Club and St. Joseph’s Parish plan to continue organizing pilgrimages. As of now, the next one will be held in Sept. 2019 to commemorate All Angel’s Day, also known as Michaelmas.