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MANY people have asked about the meaning of the pilgrim staffs which were presented to parish representatives in St Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane, on the first Sunday of Advent.
Pilgrims have always carried a staff – a strong, straight stick which is a silent companion, something to lean on when weary, prodding the ground ahead to alert of danger, keeping the bearer upright and steady.
The idea of pilgrimage is central to most major world religions, including Christianity. A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to places which remind us of our origins, our sacred stories and beliefs.
Australia's indigenous people have a tradition of pilgrimage or "walkabout" around their tribal lands, visiting sacred sites and retelling their dreaming stories in song and ritual.
Pilgrimage is a key element of the Jubilee tradition as described in the book of Leviticus: "It shall be a jubilee for you when everyone of you shall return to your own property, everyone of you to your family estate" (Lev 25:10). The jubilee was a time when the Hebrews would return home and renew relationships with family, tribe, land and God.
In this Year of Great Jubilee we too are called to undertake a pilgrimage – to reclaim our spiritual heritage, to journey deep within our own hearts, to restore relationships, and to experience the welcome and forgiveness of our loving God.
While pilgrimage can be a deeply personal experience, pilgrims are rarely alone, for they journey, share and pray with others along the way.
The pilgrim staff is a symbol of our journey together in faith as we celebrate the Year of Great Jubilee. It reminds us that we, the Church of Brisbane, are people who walk in faith and hope and love towards our heavenly home. It reminds us that Jesus walks with us on the journey, keeping us upright and steady on the path of justice and peace. We are also reminded that, like pilgrims, we need to be open to new experiences and encounters that can renew and inspire us.
Parishes have been invited to decorate their staffs during the year and use them in parish liturgies. These simple, elegant staffs of plantation hoop pine might be passed from home to home each week, used in school liturgies and in processions at Sunday Masses and be placed in a specially prepared location in the worship space. During a series of Jubilee Pilgrim Eucharists in October, parishes will bring their staffs back to the cathedral where they will be kept as a reminder of the Jubilee year.
Opportunities for pilgrimage during the year include a Pilgrim Prayer Ritual which can be undertaken by individuals or small groups at St Stephen's Cathedral, the "Ashes to Life" procession through Brisbane City streets on the evening of Ash Wednesday and "Pilgrimage to the Heart", a symbolic journey by national Church leaders and youth representatives from Canberra to Uluru in June.
Pilgrimage has the potential to draw us closer to one another and to promote unity as we journey together in faith rediscovering what it means to be followers of Jesus today.