I just finished interviewing a number of young people preparing for this month’s World Youth Day trip to Madrid. The young people, dubbed pilgrims, hailed from suburbs and cities; some were seasoned travelers and others were venturing far from their homes for the first time. Despite their different backgrounds and circumstances, each pilgrim was eager to feel God’s loving touch so far from home. One young adult minister told me sincerely, “I expect to experience a love that’s out of this world!”
Pilgrim. The paperback dictionary on my shelf defined that word as “a participant on a journey to a holy place for religious reasons”. That may be true, but it’s hard for me to banish the grammar school image of the brown coated Englishmen at Plymouth Rock with the funny hats and my hand-traced construction paper turkeys, and even more difficult to brainwash away John Wayne’s drawled “Pil-grim” in all those Western movies of the 1960s.
Pilgrim. “I have to find a more spiritual synonym,” I thought. Since the youth will be travelling to Spain, I dusted off my college Spanish/English dictionary and found the translation: “peregrino”. Ah, there’s a better image: the peregrine falcon.
The NatGeo website informed me that the peregrine falcon is a small bird found on all continents save Antarctica. Though it prefers to live in wide-open spaces and thrives near coasts, the peregrine may be found everywhere from the frigid tundra to scorching deserts, even perched upon city skyscrapers and bridges. These birds migrate far and wide but they have an incredible homing instinct which leads them back to favorite spots. Some nesting sites have been in continuous use for hundreds of years, occupied by successive generations of falcons, I learned. (To fully get into the spirit of discovery, I hit the audio on the website and heard a familiar squawk, the soundtrack to many Jersey shore visits. It prompted me to unwrap a piece of salt water taffy, so now I’m typing the remainder of this post with sticky fingers. What I go through for you….)
I’ll keep the image of the peregrine falcon in mind as I pray for the safety and success of the young pilgrims experiencing World Youth Day in Madrid this month. Their flights towards faith, the communal worship, then their winging back towards us to spread the Good News to nurture another generation of believers should inspire and benefit us all.