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Pilgrimages of Freedom

 I pellegrinaggi della libertà  DCM-003
05 March 2022

Of the total number of people who complete the Camino de Santiago [Way of St James], fifty percent are women. Three years ago, this percentage was higher still, but then the pandemic stopped religious itineraries and visits to places of worship too. The Covid restrictions have not been easy for anyone, and even less so for women, for just when there was the greatest need for consolation, they were denied the possibility to express their devotion. Gradually, women can once again go on pilgrimages as they resume, for example the grotto of Lourdes has reopened. These journeys are more than just devotional manifestations of faith; after all, women need to both undertake this type of physical and spiritual journey, and interiorly as an expression of freedom.

It is not by chance, in fact, that the pilgrimages accompany paths of emancipation and truth. The women’s visit to the Sepulchre is a founding “female” story, because they were the first messengers of the Resurrection.  In addition, in early Christianity, women experienced and enjoyed greater freedom of movement than they did so later, and we know of many women who set out for the Holy Land. These women did not simply travel through these places; they actually experienced them personally, as they did so. Whether these women were rich aristocrats with escorts in tow, or girls, brides, widows of humble origins who cared little about privations because they were already accustomed to live on very little. Saint Helen found the relics of the Holy Cross.

There is an age-old tradition of women’s journeys in search of themselves. Two little literary gems, written a thousand years apart, testify this. The first is The Journey of Egeria (approximately 382), an autobiography. Egeria was a woman of faith and cultured, perhaps a nun, perhaps a widow, who reached the places associated with Christianity from Galicia. The other is the Book of Margery Kempe, which is an extraordinary account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem dictated in the fifteenth century by a Christian woman, who was lay, married, and illiterate.

Today, the pilgrims’ motivational drives are intertwined with those of women who experience migration firsthand. They do not have a sacred goal, and do not have to fulfill a vow, but they leave, and as they do so, leave behind their loved ones and countries of origin, in search of a better and more worthy life.

Seven centuries ago, in the Vita Nova, Dante pointed out that “I wrote pilgrims in the broader sense of the term, for the word pilgrims can be understood in two ways, one broad and one narrow: in the broad sense, a pilgrim is anyone who is outside his homeland; in the narrow sense pilgrim is used only for one who travels toward the home of Saint James or returns from it”. In 2013, Benedict XVI dedicated Migrant Day to the theme “Migrations: pilgrimage of faith and hope”.

 March is the month with women’s day on the 8th, a month of women’s demonstrations. (WCW)