Pilgrimage is a sacred travel (journey), a practice that represents humanity’s common heritage. It is a phenomenon that is as old as man’s existence on the planet earth. The complex nature of this human activity corollary the misconceptions, varied views and understanding around its definitions and categorizations by different disciplines.
According to Deborah Castellano Lubo, “pilgrimage is not and never should be just “a Journey to place of religious interest” alone or with others, it is a physical component of the path of one’s heart towards God”
Today, pilgrimage has continued to be a spiritual practice for spiritual formation not bounded by ethnic or geographical boundaries. People are seeking the spiritual connection that they see is lacking in their lives. Man’s soul continuously seeks for its maker and one of the ways of fulfilling such ardent yearnings, is to turn to pilgrimage to make that connection. Hence, pilgrimage is a Journey borne out of a deep yearning and decision for one to meet with God and be holistically transformed.
Pilgrimage as a practice predates tourism, it defines and fulfils the essence of man’s creation by his creator, this gives pilgrimage a universal appeal.
The impact of pilgrimage on man has been very positive and rewarding whether Christian Pilgrimage or Muslim Hajj has been able to transform and rejuvenate man spiritually and its environment.
The Christian pilgrimage to the holy sites is said to be a demand for Christians to visit Israel to pray and be blessed as evident in Zechariah Chapter 8 verse 22 “And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him”.
Christian pilgrimage is transformational, soul inspiring and morally rejuvenating. Every Christian who had the opportunity of traveling to Israel and any other holy sites in the world usually have a spiritual encounter fulfilled with satisfactory experience thereafter.
The opportunity of walking through the path Jesus Christ walked, lived, died and resurrected is an enduring privilege. It is also an opportunity for pilgrims to follow the foot prints of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ in Rome and Greece, while pilgrimage to Jordan affords pilgrims the unique opportunity of retracing the footsteps of the prophets and patriarchs of the old as recorded in the Old Testament. Aside, the experience makes the Bible comes alive, in the mental picture of the pilgrims’ mind.
Similarly, Hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings is one of Islam’s five pillars. It consists of a series of religious sites which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia
Muslims are required at – least once in their life to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage is meant to retrace events in the life of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).
The pilgrimage to Makkah is the fifth pillar and most significant manifestations of Islamic faith and unity in the world.
Considering the importance Muslims attach to Hajj, it is something every Muslim faithful looks up to and aspire to participate once in their life time for spiritual reformation and purification.
Consequently, on return, pilgrims after the pilgrimage experience of total spiritual re- engineering in the Holy land are better equipped spiritually to relate with others and affect their immediate environment positively.
Pilgrimage therefore serves as agent of change for pilgrims whose motif for embarking on the spiritual exercise is borne out of the need to have an encounter beyond the mundane.
Pilgrimage has no doubt impacted positively on nations, especially in boosting the economy of most pilgrimage destination nations.
The economic impact of the mass movement of pilgrims from all over the world for instance to the state of Israel, is better imagined than described. Pilgrimage has continued to boost the economy of Israel and has also become one of the mainstays of the Israeli economy. But for the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019, Israel recorded about 4,500,00 pilgrims in 2019, but only recorded zero pilgrims in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic which has never happened in the past 1, 600 years ago.
Christians and non-Christians alike visit Israel annually to pray and walk through the path of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Also, the economic impacts of pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and Vatican City to mention just a few is something very huge.
Saudi Arabia though an oil rich nation, still augments its economic fortunes with pilgrimage judging from the large turnout of international pilgrims to the Holy City of Mecca annually.
In Vatican City, Millions of Catholic Pilgrims visit the Saint Peter,s Basilica annually and also seek Papal’s audience with the Holy SEE.
In Nigeria, Christian Pilgrimage and Hajj have been taken to a pedestal level through strong advocacy, effective mobilization and strong political will.
Nigeria, it must be stressed, about is one of the few countries in Sub- Saharan Africa that can boast of well-organized pilgrimage bodies – the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission, NCPC and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON.
These two national pilgrims’ regulatory bodies have been efficient in the smooth airlift of pilgrims over the years to Israel, Greece, Rome and now Jordan as well as Mecca and Saudi Arabia.
Pilgrimage in Nigeria has been able to serve as a tool for moral transformation and national development. No meaningful development can take place when the citizenry are not transformed morally.
In Nigeria, the nation benefits in so many ways through the impact of pilgrimage directly or indirectly on the local economy where pilgrimage activities take place. It has a multiplier effect on the economy of the nation, especially on travel industries, aviation and local transportation are enhanced during pilgrimage activities as intending pilgrims and Pilgrims on return from pilgrimage are conveyed from the airport to their various destinations.
Pilgrimage also encourages local content in the use of indigenous airlines to airlift pilgrims locally and internationally, sourvenirs are also produced by indigenous service providers. Pilgrimage equally help to boost the hospitality industry in Nigeria as pilgrims patronize such lodging facilities outside their place of residence. These as well greatly impact on the tourism sector of the economy.
To corroborate this positive impacts of Pilgrimage on nations , an economic impact analysis of pilgrimage expenditures in Galicia by Graare, Elizabeth J. E., Klijs, J., Heijman, W. explain the monumental gains which nations stand to benefit from pilgrimage.
They posited in a referred article in a scientific journal,” the economic impact of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in NUTS 2 region of Galicia (Spain) in 2010.
that pilgrimage expenditures in 2010 created 59,750 million pounds and 99, 575 million pounds Gross value added and between 1, 362 and 2, 162 jobs.
According to this research, most of the impact is generated within the retail and Travel service industry and also, the manufacturing service as well as Financial and Real Estate Services industries benefit from pilgrimage expenditures.
This research indicates that in even the most conservative scenario, the impact of pilgrimage is significant on the local economy of Galicia.
The same goes to other pilgrimage destination nations where pilgrims all over the world converge in their millions to visit important Holy sites and the effect on these Nations economy is massive.
Some of these Holy Sites with high attraction of pilgrims can be found in Mexico City, the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe where approximately 20 million people visit the Basilica, the western wall in Jerusalem which is Judaism’s holiest site, where the second Temple stood until it was destroyed. The Vatican City, Italy is visited by nearly 4.2 million people annually.
There is also the Lourdes France which gained fame amongst Catholics in 1858 when the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared 18 times to a local 14 year old girl, Bernadette Soubirous.. Since then Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage, with more than 200 million visitors since 1860, many of them helping to be healed by spring water from the grotto.
We also have important Holy Sites such as Abu Simbel Temples in Egypt, Mount Sinai located in the pennisular in Egypt, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, Mexico where approximately 20 million people visit the Basilica every yea
r.The Basilica was constructed on the site where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztel peasant named Juan Diego in December of 1531. There is also the Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, Mount Nebo and the original Baptismal site of our Lord Jesus Christ in Jordan , etc .All these Holy Sites scattered around the world have directly or indirectly impacted positively in boosting the economy of those nations, because of the high human traffic that are attracted to these Pilgrimage sites.
Obviously, the impact of pilgrimage to man and nations cannot be underestimated; It is far reaching and beneficial .
Assessing the impacts of Pilgrimage on the society generally,, it is indeed not a jamboree as some may perceive, because it touches on the existentiality of man as a created being, therefore it will be incongruous for anyone to denigrate pilgrimage as a mere jamboree or a waste of resources.
Toruka writes from