The Hesitant Pilgrim

I never wanted to travel. Ayaw ko ng palipat-lipat. My father was a chemist whose work assignments brought him from one place to another so we were constantly moving. I was born in Talairon, Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental and was just in Grade 1 when we moved to Lucena in Quezon province.

We moved to three other houses there. I could not establish roots and could not even remember my friends in elementary!

I also moved jobs several times. The longest I held was the 5 years I spent as Community Support Services Head of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community before I entered the Seminary.

Because traveling was not my cup of tea, I turned down many scholarships to study abroad. Ayaw ko na mag-adjust sa ibang kultura at lalong mas ayaw kong mag-aral ng ibang salita. I had an offer to study in Rome that I refused because I could not imagine myself having to learn Italian and eating pizza all the time. I cannot live by bread alone, I need rice.

But when God sees that we are afraid to take a step because of our need for permanence and staying in our comfort zones, sometimes God gives us a strong push.

Sometimes God acts before we act, sometimes God acts after we act, but God will never act without us acting. In my case, God waited for my permission to act.

In April 2006, I received a call from the office of Cardinal Rosales appointing me to be the President of Catholic Travel, Inc., the travel agency of the Archdiocese of Manila. With strong resistance, I said yes. You can never be wrong in obedience.

Since then I have been going to the Holy Land as pilgrimage chaplain 2-3x times a year. I was given the chance to walk where Jesus walked and pray where Jesus prayed. Binago ako ng aking assignment. Scripture has become alive. I journey with people and share about the faith, the struggles and how God looks at us individually, answering our every concern.

Being in the Holy Land makes a difference because the place itself talks to you in a very personal way. For instance when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and says, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” You experience the very same thing: the stones, the trees, everything speaks about the glory of God. Sometimes it moves you to silence, sometimes to tears, or even to a joy deep in your heart that you cannot explain. You are simply lost in the warm embrace of God.

I believe that when you go to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, your life will never be the same again. Buhay na buhay ang Diyos. When you go back home and listen to the gospel or even when you are privately doing your lectio divina, you cannot help but pause and silently say to yourself, “I was there.”

A Pilgrimage is not simply about places, it’s also about people. That is why it is always new for me.

I still pack my things two nights before leaving for a pilgrimage. Hindi pa rin nawawala ang discomfort ko in traveling. I have to leave a lot of things to do in the Parish. I have to let go of my need for space, silence and sleep. But with God, what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable may also be exciting, beneficial and abundant.

I am so blessed that I could be an instrument of God’s word. It humbles me and reaffirms my faith. Silently, when I’m alone in my room my heart wants to burst with joy and laughter. Indeed, to simply be a witness to all these, I cannot help but bend my knees and thank the Lord for every opportunity. It is good when we are able to remember God in everything that we do but it is better when it is God who remembers us. When we take delight in the Lord, He will grant the desires of our heart.

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Fr Dave Concepcion is the Parish priest of Sta. Maria Goretti Parish at the Pope Pius XII, Catholic Center, Paco, Manila. He is also a regular on Radio Veritas846’s Pamilya mo, Pamilya ko (Mondays 10:00-11:55am).

Pilgrimages with Catholic Travel, Inc. benefit the retired and sick priests of Kadiwa sa Pagpapari and the Catechists of the Catechetical Foundation of the Archdiocese of Manila (CFAM).

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