Talk to Patrizia De Libero Brown and the concept of making a pilgrimage will never be the same. She believes a pilgrimage should connect to a person's faith and be a life-changing experience.
Brown visited the diocese in November to attend a convention of representatives from important shrines. She is from Kairos Pilgrimages in Massachusetts, and also a pastoral assistant in the Vatican organization Opera Romana Pellegrinacci, which is the Vatican organization for pilgrimages. The Vatican organization began 80 years ago with the purpose to serve pilgrims while connecting them to important destinations for Christians and supporting them spiritually.
"Pilgrimages have become more and more an instrument to deepen faith and evangelize," Brown said. "A pilgrimage is a tool for evangelization. We are witnesses to the Word of God. There is a destination, but a pilgrimage is not just about the destination. It is a journey. We like to say the pilgrimage is a journey of the spirit."
In starting the pilgrimage ministry, Brown said the Vatican felt a responsibility to provide spiritual guidance to people visiting such places as Lourdes. Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi has gotten larger over the years.
"We like to serve people in a way that we can share experiences pilgrims want to share," Brown said. "We offer a journey, but at the same time we can organize the kind of journey they want to do."
Brown said her organization takes care of all the practical things necessary for a good pilgrimage such as hotels, transportation, restaurants and itinerary. She said it does more than the average travel agency.
"There is a difference," Brown said. "A travel agency doesn't have a pastoral center. Our focus is on the human person who is a creation of our Lord. This is why we have a great care of details, spiritual, technical and logistic. It might be the only time people can visit a sacred destination like the Holy Land. We like to serve them in a way we can help their inner journey to take place without thinking too much of other logistical aspects of the pilgrimage."
Brown said that the organization can create a desired environment but it is still up to individual pilgrims to be able to live their experience in a completely open state.
"The moment they start to interact with us it is a calling to participate," Brown said. "It is a calling to go on a journey of the spirit. A pilgrimage starts with an inner call. A pilgrim really feels called to go to this place and sometimes they don't even know why they are called to go there. The whole process is important. The pilgrimage is not the act of arriving. The pilgrimage is the road."
Brown said that often pilgrims will have a certain concept and image of what the pilgrimage will include. Pilgrims tend to visit, take photos and leave. She said a pilgrimage needs to be perceived in a different way.
"When you enter a holy place you need to pray and just perceive," she said. "The experience should be fulfilling. A pilgrimage should be an experience of going beyond the ordinary way of doing things."
Brown feels that a pilgrimage can be a process of learning and often can present the opportunity to let faith lead to a better direction.
"A pilgrimage really can be a life-changing experience," she said. "I can learn from people, from the whole experience. I believe once you do a pilgrimage something starts to change in your life. Your attitude might be different when you get back."
For further information or to contact Brown at Kairos Pilgrimages call 978-249-6580 or via email.