John Culley explains the work of the Templar Pilgrimage Trust
At Santiago de Compostela in 2010, Pope Benedict said: ‘To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God.’ Over the last four decades, the Templar Pilgrimage Trust has been helping people to go on pilgrimage, and so to encounter God.
The Trust was founded in 1982 to encourage and support Christian pilgrimage by individuals and groups, and to promote a greater interest in heritage and faith. Its founders were inspired by the medieval Order of Knights Templar, which was founded in 1119, primarily to give aid and protection to pilgrims travelling to the holy places of Christendom. Nine centuries later, ideals of piety and charity still inspire people to support the search for meaning and faith which finds its expression in pilgrimage.
There are many young people among twenty-first century pilgrims. The trust has supported individual students and school groups. It has also supported people considering a call to Christian ministry. There is often an educational or learning aspect to pilgrimage and the trust has supported ordinands, as well as students undertaking further educational studies or research. In the last few years, the trust has made grants to groups from Forward in Faith parishes in areas of social deprivation, as well as to individual members of the Society. These people have one thing in common: without financial support, they would not be able to consider making a pilgrimage. The trust supports successful applicants with modest grants towards their pilgrimage costs.
The trust has supported pilgrimages to a variety of holy places. Not surprisingly, many applicants contemplate pilgrimages to famous sites, for example at Assisi, the Holy Land, Lourdes, Rome, Santiago or Walsingham. But the trust has supported pilgrims going to less well-known places such as Glendalough, which is associated with St Kevin, the shrine of Our Lady at Knock and the statue of Our Lady of Ipswich, venerated in Nettuno in Italy. Occasionally, it has supported a pilgrimage to a more modern site, such as the concentration camp at Flossenbürg where Dietrich Bonhoeffer died.
Interest in pilgrimage has increased greatly since the 1980s. For example, in 1984, 423 pilgrims completed the final 100km stretch of the Camino de Santiago, entitling them to an official certificate; by 2006, the figure was 100,000; and ten years later it was approaching 300,000, of whom 6,000 were from the UK.
As the number of people searching for meaning and faith continues to grow, so do the costs of making a pilgrimage. For students and young people, pilgrimage is starting to become cost prohibitive. Yet it is students and young people who are among those with most to gain from making a pilgrimage. For this reason, the trust is determined to continue supporting them, while also reaching out to others whose search for meaning and faith finds its expression in pilgrimage.
Reports from returning pilgrims testify to the benefits of the pilgrimages the trust has supported. Pilgrims have been moved by knowing they followed in the steps of others over the centuries. Ordinands have experienced the Bible in different and new ways as they prepare for ministry. A group leader on a handicapped children’s pilgrimage to Lourdes spoke of amazing changes and emotions in the children in the group. There are also, no doubt, benefits that emerge over time and on pilgrims’ reflection. People will continue stepping out of themselves to encounter God.
The trust’s website http://www.templarpilgrimagetrust .org.uk/ gives more detail about its work. The trust encourages applications from people planning pilgrimage who need assistance with funding. It will also be glad to hear from people wishing to support its work through donations—details are on the website.
John Colley is the Chairman of the Templar Pilgrim Trust.