by ANNETTE COLLINS
As I prepared for my journey to Hokianga, I reviewed my checklist — toiletries (check), shoes (check), food (BIG check!), prayer . . .
After six years since my last pilgrimage, I decided I’d go “one last time”, especially to celebrate the 25th jubilee for the pilgrimage to Motuti. A huge sense of relief dawned on me that this would mean “no tv, no XBox, no Facebook”, and so on. A time for me to both physically and mentally distance myself from all the distractions and temptations of the “city life”.
As I packed my belongings into the car on a Friday afternoon and looked around, I saw a variety of young men and women, as well as our elder generation of dedicated pilgrims whom I had seen from the last pilgrimage. I felt a sense of pride acknowledging the growth of youth attending this sacred journey, and remembered how much smaller the numbers were before.
As we drove through Whangarei towards Rawene, I watched as industrial buildings and supermarkets slowly disappeared from view, substituted by landscapes of trees and hilltops. It dawned on me that there is so much we take for granted here. I’m not referring to “the nearest fast food restaurant” or “the closest movie theatre” being easily accessible in the city; but the serenity and beauty mother nature offers and how merely this view can provide a sense of peace and warmth.
While in a mood of peaceful thinking, my mind wanders with questions of “What am I here to do?” and “What do I want to achieve from this pilgrimage?”
For a couple of days after arriving at Motuti, I watch in awe as young people commit themselves to daily prayer, Mass, rosary processions, Stations of the Cross, all night vigil, Legion prayers and sharing of their experiences of faith with each other. There is laughter, singing of songs and playing the guitar, exchanging of names and introductions, photos, sports, performances, preparation of food, cleaning and service to older pilgrims.
While I was sitting outside Tamatea Marae I was approached by a young pilgrim who asked me my name and which praesidium I came from. The conversation led to his education, what he plans to do at university, why he is choosing to study that subject and the reality of life’s many temptations and distractions.
The conversation drew the attention of other young people, who joined in and starting sharing about their own interests, education and life experiences. I feel a sense of belonging and comfort that these young people so quickly practically feel like family.
One young man says his experience during last year’s pilgrimage and the all night vigil was “emotional because everyone’s singing praises and praying together all night”.
Wow, is all I could muster in my mind as this young man tells me of his view and experience. He is sharing his enjoyment of staying up all night to pray and reflect with God.
At 26 years of age, I’ve come to learn that the age of an individual does not define how well you know God, or how much more committed you are to him. If anything, I can say that the young people I have encountered in my pilgrimages have influenced my decisions to be a better and more driven soldier of Christ.
I am blessed and grateful to have shared this journey with so many young passionate, practising Catholics who are our next generation.
As to my questions of “What am I here to do?” and “What do I want to achieve from this pilgrimage?” In all honesty, I don’t fully know. All I know is God has a plan for us all and if I am committed, I need to listen and pray.