Pilgrims at the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria.
Pilgrims at the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre, East Melbourne.
Pilgrims at St Joseph's Schoolhouse in Penola, South Australia.
Pilgrims at the Mary MacKillop Museum in Kensington, South Australia.
Fr Julian Tenison Woods' grave at Waverley Cemetery, New South Wales.
Tomb of St Mary MacKillop in North Sydney, New South Wales.

There is a quote on Mary MacKillop’s tomb which reads, “We are but travellers here”. Mary was very aware of life as a journey, made up of many smaller journeys, both actual and metaphorical.

The one great journey is that of moving toward the fullness of our relationship with God, which we call ‘heaven’. The Australian National Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Mary MacKillop is one of these smaller journeys.

Sometimes people ask about the ‘tour; or the ‘trip’ when referring to the pilgrimage. However, pilgrimage is different, though some elements are the same. Making a pilgrimage is an ancient practice and is part of many religions. Muslims journey to Mecca, Jewish people to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Hindus to Kumbh Mela, Buddhists to Bodhgaya and Christians walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints. In short, to set out on pilgrimage is to undertake a spiritual journey that touches the heart and soul.

While on pilgrimage we are encouraged to be self-reflective, open, and attentive to whatever gift God offers in the day’s journey. We might ask the question, “what transformation is taking place in my heart and life?”

Robyn, one of this year’s pilgrims said: “If you are looking for a way to freshen up your faith, try a pilgrimage. Come back with a new perspective and a positive attitude to your spiritual outlook”.

For those of us who lead the National Pilgrimage, the experience is ever-new. Pilgrims often share with us their life story: the joys, pain, challenges, and reasons for coming on pilgrimage. We are privileged to share their journey for this short while, knowing that we are all now intertwined in each other’s story.

As we journey, we must ‘let go’ of the certainties of life, opening ourselves to receive the gifts and challenges of the unknown. This ‘letting go’ was a constant in Mary’s life as she opened herself to what God wanted to do in her. She called this ‘doing God’s Will’.

Each day of the pilgrimage called us to something new. The wet and cold days called us to care for each other; the long day of travel called us to be patient; our disappointments called us to understand and let go; the beauty of the countryside called us to wonder and rejoice – to embrace the interconnectedness of all of creation; and the hospitality of people along the way called us to gratitude and thanksgiving.

Spending time in places significant to Mary’s journey provided us with the opportunity to increase our knowledge of Mary’s story. Prayer and reflection allowed us the time to go beyond her journey into our own. In our Pilgrimage Book we read, “May all making this pilgrimage know [Mary MacKillop] as companion and friend as, like her, we journey into our hearts and open them to God”. (Mary Cresp rsj)

This year we were blessed to journey with 23 Pilgrims from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. We invited the pilgrims to share with us their experience of this pilgrimage. Here is what some of them shared:

“I would recommend this pilgrimage to anyone who want to learn more about St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison woods. Brilliant!” Rosemary

“A pilgrimage to be recommended. You can take whatever you feel comfortable home after the pilgrimage. It was like being in a video of Mary MacKillop’s life.” Herbert

“Participants were immersed with beautiful experiences, knowledge and meditation.” Unsigned

“A very wonderful experience of the places we visited and all the input and especially the beautiful prayer times and reflections.” Greg

We invite you to consider joining the 2023 Pilgrimage which commences in Melbourne on 17 October and concludes in Sydney on Saturday 28 October.

Full details will be available by March 2023. In the meantime, if you would like to have a conversation about the Australian National Pilgrimage, please ring Annie Bond rsj on (02) 8912 4818 or email national.pilgrimage@mmp.org.au

Annie Bond rsj
Assistant Director Mary MacKillop Place – responsible for Ministries