Questions and Answers
PILGRIMAGEWhat is the attraction of pilgrimage?
Pilgrimage is one way to energize our search for deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. Through pilgrimage, the spirit is renewed and our general outlook becomes uplifted, changing the way we look at everyday life. By visiting sacred sites we are able to immerse ourselves in their powerful vibrations and have a direct personal experience of divinity. This is the power of pilgrimage, making it an important tradition of many of the world's religions.
What is pilgrimage?
Pilgrimage is currently a popular term used to refer to almost any excursion to a place that has special meaning. We have seen pilgrimage refer to golf, the Beatles, literary figures, Elvis Presley, and football. In our book we use the word to mean a spiritual quest or journey, specifically visiting saints’ shrines and meditating with them, with the expectation of receiving special blessings.
What happens on pilgrimage?
The ritual is different for each religion. But generally, people seek out the holy places important to them, perform rituals, and pray for themselves, others, or situations (like world peace). We do this by stilling our hearts and minds in meditation. We pray to feel the saint’s presence, to open our hearts and receive their blessings in the form of joy, peace, love, or calmness. Each person’s experience will be different. When we are receptive, the saints transmit their love of God to us as a taste of what awaits us when we are centered in God.
Not only is France the premier tourist destination in the world, but surprisingly, this beautiful country contains an abundant array of pilgrimage sites. Lourdes is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the world. However there are other towns of all sizes that have had visitations of the Virgin Mary, or have hosted great saints, from the lesser-known St. Edmund of Abingdon, to the much-loved St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.”ITALY
We love Italy, and our church has a spiritual retreat center outside of Assisi. Italy is a wonderful place to practice opening your heart to the saints, because Italians are naturally open and warm hearted. It helps stressed-out Americans to slow down and learn to enjoy the subtleties of the Italian lifestyle, including the heartfelt devotion they have for the saints.MEDITATION
What is meditation?
Meditation is a technique to still the mind, focus inward and feel our true divine essence. We sit in a comfortable position, close our eyes, and use a breathing technique to quiet our thoughts. When the mind is calm and centered, we can experience our natural state of peace, and a deep, inner joy that is untouched by the ups and downs of everyday life. Easy to follow instructions on How to Meditate with the Saints are provided in both our books.Why do we need to learn to meditate with the saints to have a more meaningful pilgrimage?
If we don’t take the time to tune into the saints and actually feel their presence and blessings, the experience is more one of sightseeing or religious tourism. This is fine if that is all you want, but if you are looking for inspiration on your spiritual path or in your life, the tangible vibrations of the saints can open your heart in beautiful, subtle ways.Why is meditation becoming more popular?
We believe people are becoming disenchanted with living a life of more material consumption, and are looking for answers to the eternal question, “What is the purpose of life?” Meditation teaches us to focus inwardly and find personal answers to these questions. When we experience the feeling of our own divine nature, it creates a deep impression that transcends intellectual understanding.What are the benefits of meditation?
The benefits of meditation vary for each individual, but in general terms, people feel more relaxed and centered, and are able to function more calmly in the world. Other benefits we have experienced are joy, peace, unconditional love, inspiration, increased intuition and grace.THE SAINTS
What makes a saint a saint?
A saint is simply a person who has achieved some degree of union with God. These great souls are present in every religion and era, but we Westerners tend to think of Roman Catholic saints, because they are the most prevalent in our culture. In the early days of Christianity, the martyrs became the first saints, and then the Catholic Church realized a need for formal recognition and developed a process of “canonization.” This formal process has changed through the years, but it is still in effect today.Some of the saints in your book are said to be incorruptible. What does that mean?
Incorruptible means that a saint’s body has not been “corrupted” by the normal process of decay. The Catholic Church does not consider it a miracle when a saint’s body does not decompose, even after hundreds of years, but many followers of the saint do think it is miraculous. Recently, there have been scientific studies that have shown that some of the saints actually were mummified. These investigations have also shown that some were not mummified, and remain in an incorrupt state by grace alone.
Isn’t it kind of strange to pray to mummified saints and their relics?
Some people think this is strange, but humans have always directed their prayers toward objects that inspire them spiritually. Most religions believe that the spirit survives the body, and in the case of saints, this spirit permeates their relics. The fact that thousands of people devote their prayers to the relics also infuses them with spiritual power. Many well-documented miracles have occurred after people have prayed to the saints and their relics.INTERFAITH
How can people of different faiths make a pilgrimage to Roman Catholic shrines?
The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t ask what religion you are when you visit their churches or shrines. The saints are there to share their blessings with all, and you don’t have to be Catholic to feel the presence of God. You may not be able to participate in all their rituals, but you can certainly participate in the blessings! Not all faiths allow people of other religions (or even both genders) to visit their holy sites, so it is important to do your research before planning a pilgrimage to shrines outside your religion. Fortunately, this is not a problem at the Catholic shrines in France and Italy.AUTHORS
Why are two American yogis interested in the Catholic saints of France and Italy?
Our spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, taught us to read and study the lives of the saints, so that we might be inspired by them, emulate them, and strive to become more saint-like ourselves. Following this advice, we decided to make our honeymoon a pilgrimage, and planned to visit the sacred shrines of Italy. After writing the book on Italy, France seemed the next obvious place to visit with its many famous pilgrimage sites.What do you find interesting about the saints’ lives?
While writing the book, we both had deep experiences reading the lives of the saints. Their stories of self-offering to God's will inspire us to do the same. Actually, many of the holy people we write about were known to study and contemplate the lives of the saints. We don’t have to travel to distant places to receive the inspiration of the saintswe can read about the saints and meditate with them wherever we live. The true essence of pilgrimage is always centered in one’s own heart.