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Amanda Woodiel discusses the benefits of her family's tradition: taking a family pilgrimage to celebrate a child's first holy Communion.

Where we live, people usually host parties to celebrate their child’s first holy Communion. When my oldest child was preparing to receive his first holy Communion at the age of 7, I was 8 months pregnant with my fifth child.   

So for that reason, among others, when my friend and mentor mentioned that some people celebrate the sacrament by taking their kids on a pilgrimage instead of having a reception, I perked up. I knew that whatever I did for the first child, I would have to do for the rest, and a pilgrimage sounded more my speed. 




That first child was pretty easily talked into a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, conveniently located 40 minutes away. The second child, when his turn came, chose to go to Milwaukee and to a basilica there. Our third chose Louisville, and our fourth selected St. Louis, from where we just returned after a two-year-late pilgrimage. My fifth will receive her first holy Communion this year, and she’s eyeing Buffalo, New York. (In case you’re wondering, yes, our oldest son is agitating for a “do-over” pilgrimage, which he’ll probably be granted one day.)  

This tradition has really blessed our family, and I heartily recommend it. Wherever our child wants to go, we research to find a shrine or church to visit. The one caveat I will mention is that it’s important to plan the trip so as to attend a weekend Mass. We traveled to Louisville during the week and went to a sparsely-attended morning Mass, and it felt less like a pilgrimage and more like a trip to Louisville. (This is all the more the case because, of course, we plan other fun things to do while we are there.)  

One consequence of this tradition is that it gets our family on a trip. Money is always tight for us, and traveling with multiple kids is expensive. Even something that isn’t that expensive in itself becomes prohibitive when multiplied by seven. Without the impetus to go somewhere, I know I wouldn’t do it. 




But going somewhere as a family is actually very important. Making memories, whether they’re good ones or terrible ones, builds the collective history of the family. Meeting saints, admiring religious art, and worshiping at Mass bind a family together. Encountering obstacles and pulling together to overcome them instill important life lessons. Giving new opportunities for self-sacrifice—whether it’s sitting in the back row of the minivan (in the middle, no less!) or sleeping on the hotel floor—plant the seeds for spiritual maturity. Listening to audiobooks or to dad’s old music together weaves new character into the fabric of family life. Spending so many hours together in a concentrated time with no laundry, dishes, extracurricular activities, or anything else to distract us is a gift the modern family doesn’t often get.  

And then also, when you arrive back home after multiple hours on the road, the home (your home!) is a sweet balm to travel-weary souls. Everyone from oldest to youngest recognizes the gift of “our home” that first night and day back. It is more beautiful, more blessed, and more exciting on that first night of sleep in your own beds than if you had never left it to go elsewhere. 




There is something magical and mystical about returning home, to that place of security, to that place where we belong, and I wonder if we will experience something of that feeling when we, by the grace of God, arrive at our heavenly home at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. May it be so! 


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Copyright 2024 Amanda Woodiel
Images: Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.