For centuries, pilgrims have traveled to distant lands to worship and pray, from Chaucer’s characters in The Canterbury Tales to the Muslim tradition of journeying to Mecca.
Photo by Martin Falbisoner under the Creative Commons license.
Top Five Elements of a Food Pilgrimage:
1. Be hungry for the experience. Think about what you want to focus on.
2. Slice! Dice! Make Julienne Fries! Connect to the preparation of a meal. Use the best ingredients; be thankful.
3. Pass the rolls! Share your experience with others.
4. Put down the camera, pick up your fork. Savor the moment as it is happening.
5. The best souvenirs are the ones that continue to live on in our hearts.
But today, many pilgrims are craving a new spiritual experience: food. In the past year, three prominent Catholics have led food pilgrimages to Napa Valley, Jerusalem, and Tuscany, discovering along the way that these trips nourish the body, mind, and spiritual self.
“Each country and culture has a unique way of celebrating, and I just give my pilgrims an opportunity to explore it through the eyes of faith and through the eyes of the stomach,” says Fr. Leo Patalinghug, author of Epic Food Fight: A Bite-Sized History of Salvation, who recently led food pilgrimages to New York City and Napa Valley. “It’s easy to forget that we are supposed to ‘taste and see’ the goodness of The Lord.”
Fr. Leo Patalinghug on a food and faith pilgrimage in Napa Valley
Author and blogger Mary DeTurris Poust also recently returned from a food pilgrimage, in which she led 37 strangers through spiritual and culinary landmarks of Italy. The itinerary included a discussion on spiritual friendships in Assisi, how food and faith comingle at the family table in Rome, the center of the Catholic faith, and how to pray in nature, particularly in the rolling hills and jagged cliffs of southern Italy. Along the way, the pilgrims were invited to share in the celebration of Italian meals, to be aware of the food preparation, to savor being together, and to thank God for the meal.
“In Italy, food is sacred. The meal takes time and is meant to be shared together. It’s about so much more than the food you’re eating,” says DeTurris Poust. “It’s such a great combination of eat, pray, and eat some more.”
Mary DeTurris Poust in Massa Lubrense, Italy, with the Isle of Capri in the background
Jeff Young, founder of the website Catholic Foodie, traveled to the Holy Land on a food and faith pilgrimage in early 2014. For Young, food pilgrimages are an answer to the call of New Evangelization, which encourages different approaches to sharing the Gospel and to meeting people where they are. One such encounter on his trip helped Young see faith shared in a subtle way. He and his fellow pilgrims visited a Christian open-air bakery in Israel and saw a baker, awake since before dawn, hunched at the work table, kneading and working the dough to make bread from a 30-year-old starter of yeast.
“The smile he had, the gentleness he showed making the bread—all the people watching him could see the importance of his work, the care he took; we all experienced this with him.”
Jeff Young (right) in Jerusalem with the bakers
Bread is the most important food in the three major religions of the area—Judaism, Christian, and Muslim—Young said. “Bread is called ‘the staff of life’ for its life-giving necessity. The whole experience was a very concrete, very real example of faith and food together. Faith is the most important and food is the vehicle by which we get there.”
Even if a plane ticket to Jerusalem is not in your budget this year, one can find a “pilgrim moment” anywhere you find yourself open to experience.
A simple meal of beans and farro that Poust enjoyed in Assisi, Italy
Young says the most important part to remember, whether you’re halfway around the world or in your kitchen, is that whenever “you yearn to grow in food and make the connection to your spirituality, take it back into your life. Food can be a venue to experience and bloom.”
Fr. Leo adds, “As St. Theresa of Avilla would say, 'When it's time to fast, it's time to fast. When it's time to feast, it's time to feast.’ At the end of a food and faith pilgrimage, people always remark how they felt the experience was a combination of a retreat, vacation, and just a really fun tour all at the same time.”
Consider being a pilgrim on your next trip, and leave room at the table for God.