A group gathers after completing the annual Wilno Pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom

Wilno pilgrimage proves to be good for the soles

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • October 9, 2019

Christi Lee Wah had been on pilgrimages before, yet she was not expecting the incredible challenge that would come with Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College’s annual Wilno pilgrimage. 

A first-year student at the school in Barry’s Bay, Ont., Lee Wah took her sacrifice one step further and walk the entire 12-kilometre route barefoot. This choice to suffer for Christ strongly enriched her experience, she said, bringing a greater depth to it.

“If I go to the hospital or just get sick, those are some things that come and go and I’m used to them,” said Lee Wah. “I’m in a fine state, but I’m willfully doing something that will involve pain. I never got to do something like that, and it really helped me to come closer to God.”

Sixty-four students, faculty and staff of Seat of Wisdom College set off this year on their annual pilgrimage to the nearby town of Wilno, Ont., on Sept. 21. For Lee Wah, as the two-hour trek continued, the comfort of shoes became a tempting desire, but an unattainable one in any case —  she had left her footwear at home, completely committing to her sacrifice. 

At first, the pain was a distraction from reflection and prayer, until she realized her intention — to offer her walk for her sister and a sick professor — was being forfeited for focus on her own discomfort. 

That is when she decided to view her journey from a new perspective. Instead of complaining, she enabled the pain she felt with each step to be a constant reminder of what her intentions were. This helped her not only to slow down on a physical and contemplative level, but also to reflect more attentively on her prayers. Suddenly, her experience of suffering changed drastically.

“You are focusing mostly on the ground and your feet and what you step on … so that focus isn’t on anything else. It’s on what you’re doing ... and what you can lift up. So if I step on a really bad rock … it reminds me what I’m doing this for.”

The ability to reflect deeply during pilgrimages has great value, said the school’s theology teacher, John Paul Meenan. 

Meenan began the pilgrimage tradition in the founding years of the college nearly 20 years ago. He described how each walk can be understood as not only a prayer, but also as a reflection of our own spiritual pilgrimage towards death and Heaven. Just as in the Wilno pilgrimage, each of us partakes in a common journey, sharing prayers, song and conversations, yet each going at different paces. 

“The final hill, the final ascent, is a great parable of life,” said Meenan. “There’s obstacles in the way, you overcome them and the church opens up before you. This glorious church on top of the hill with a panoramic view of the whole valley. It’s an image of the pilgrimage of life itself.” 

The arrival at the Wilno church is followed by a dinner hosted at the home of Christopher Zakrzewski, Seat of Wisdom’s retired Latin teacher, and his wife. This year, the pilgrimage also included a visitation to Wilno’s grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. 

The fruits of this walk for many go beyond the physical reward of a beautiful location and community dinner, however. Seat of Wisdom student Mark McPeak finds that taking this time away from academics to concentrate on prayer is rewarding because it feeds his focus on his spiritual life. 

“I realize that my spiritual life… if it isn’t something that comes first, it doesn’t take its proper place, or if I put academics over it, then things are not going to fall into the right order,” said the third-year student. “You have to put what’s most important first and then trust that God will give you what you need to do the rest.”

McPeak sees pilgrimages as a physical manifestation of the need to move towards God in order to reach his potential.  

For Lee Wah, the separation from her shoes ended up not only being a freeing experience, but also a spiritually rewarding one.

“I’ve had pilgrimages before, but this one was definitely the best one I’ve been on. Because I went barefoot and took that extra extreme it was more of an impact … it forces you to take your time and that really helped because usually when I’m praying I tend to speed up.”

(French, 21, is a third-year liberal arts student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.