Ireland’s ancient history, Celtic Christianity and stunning landscapes were just a few of the reasons the 2022 Pilgrims chose to visit this destination for their St. John’s Pilgrimage. The country did not disappoint! We hiked a section of St. Kevin’s Way in Glendalough, studied Celtic Christianity in Armagh with expert Gracie Clunie and learned about the Neolithic passage tombs in County Meath. Howie Anderson led the group in chants and our other chaperones shared devotion duties as we processed each day of spectacular scenery, encounters and opportunities!

If you talked to any of the families of an Ireland pilgrim or chaperone though, you know that our pilgrimage was not all smooth sailing. We checked our baggage in on June 13th and didn’t see it again until June 17th (and for Howie, not until June 27th). We were delayed out of Minneapolis, spent 2 nights in Chicago, were canceled out of Chicago, flew to Philadelphia, rented cars and drove to Newark and at last, on June 16th, we finally arrived in Ireland.

Most travelers would have been angry, stressed and discouraged, but not this group! The pilgrims quickly made their own group chat and began playing cards, taking advantage of the hotel pool and sharing information about flight issues efficiently. Upon reflection at the end of the pilgrimage, it was generally agreed that the time stuck in Chicago was an excellent bonding opportunity for this pilgrimage group. The majority of their pilgrimage preparation had been done online.

Nonetheless, the delays were not easy. After our third flight delay/cancelation and an uncertain understanding of what would happen next – not to mention a total of 3 hours of sleep for the night – we got a message from the 3 pilgrims who had made it to Dublin. They did not have group tickets like the rest of us and were able to get direct flights to Dublin. They shared that there was a separate customs line in Dublin set up for all of the Ukrainian refugees who were coming to Ireland. They went on to say that these refugees were terrified and had nothing – not even a common language- as they entered a new country with their children. It put our pilgrimage into sharp perspective and Howie led us in prayer for all of those who are refugees. We realized that our pilgrimage had already started and that our privileged situation was something to be grateful for. Our pilgrims took this very seriously and I did not hear even one complaint about the delays, the exhaustion or our uncertainty. Instead, I saw the pilgrims come together, bond, laugh, sleep on small airport chairs and encourage one another. It was a blessing that I will not quickly forget.

This positive attitude and spirit of gratefulness lasted the entire trip – no matter how tired or frustrated we were. We struggled with the issues facing Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast, and worked to understand what true reconciliation and forgiveness looks like. We studied the peace process at Corrymeela Centre, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation centre, with Jonny Clark, the centre’s programme manager for Public Theology. We discussed what it would look like to confront people or groups of people in our lives that we could never imagine reaching out to in a spirit of peace. We played a lot of card games, ate a lot of fish and chips and added the words, “brilliant” and “cheers” to our vocabularies!

It is hard to express how thankful we are to St. John’s for this opportunity! I know that each one of us grew in ways we still may not quite understand, but we also know that our pilgrimage towards reconciliation and peace in our own lives has only just begun, with many thanks to all of the experiences we had in Ireland. Failte!

Heather Miller
Minister of Children, Youth, and Families