Advice from a Master Catechist: Student-Friendly Mini-Pilgrimages

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What age-appropriate activities might you suggest before, during, or after we take our seventh-grade class to make a mini-pilgrimage to a Marian shrine near our parish? —JOAN MARIE G.

Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, responds …

You could begin with their experience and the meaning of a pilgrimage. Ask them about their travels, special places they have visited, and why they were special. Share that, throughout our history, Christians have gone on pilgrimages, usually to sacred places such as the Holy Land, shrines, birthplaces of saints, and so on. People have embarked on pilgrimages as times to reflect on the constant presence of God, especially in places that speak to us of God’s presence.

Invite young learners to consider pilgrimages captured by the life of Mary. Recall with them Mary’s journeys: her visit to Elizabeth, trip to Bethlehem, flight to Egypt, traveling to the temple, and following Jesus to Calvary. Mary made interior journeys as well— from confusion (Annunciation) to understanding; from worry (journey to the Temple) to relief at finding Jesus; from sorrow (Calvary) to joy (Easter).

Before you depart for your pilgrimage site: Divide your group into pairs, giving each child an index card with the following questions: On your life journey, what are some gifts God has given you? What are some hard things that happened in your life journey? What has helped you get through them? Share a time when you really felt that God was with you.

Invite the young people to share their thoughts with each other. If you are walking to a nearby destination (a prayer room, a shrine on the parish grounds, under trees), they might talk as they walk.

Upon arriving at your destination, lead the youngsters in this threefold activity:

1. Invite them to reflect on what they shared along the way: How did you feel about talking with each other about your life’s journey? Did you discover anything new about yourself? About others because of your partner’s thoughts? Something new about God?

2. Remind them that a pilgrimage takes people to a holy place. Ask: Is this a holy place? Through discussion, help them realize that wherever this pilgrimage has taken them, it is a holy place. We believe that any place where two are three are gathered in Jesus’ name is a holy place; all creation is holy and graced.

3. Pray one decade of the Rosary based on one of the journeys of Mary, such as the Visitation. Before each Hail Mary, have a different child focus the meditation: thanksgiving for Mary’s yes or a prayer that we may “journey” to help others as Mary did when she visited Elizabeth.


Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, is involved in catechetical and adult faith formation, consultation, writing, workshops, days of reflection and retreats, and teaching. Find more at

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2017.


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