My Bonnevaux Pilgrimage Reflections 2.0

Avatar Paola Di Pietro

by Danielle Lee

When I decided to join my parents for the pilgrimage to Bonnevaux, I was excited but wary. The majority of the trip participants were solidly middle-aged (some even elderly) Hong Kong ladies, and I was going to be the youngest person by decades. Now that the pilgrimage is over, I realize that I need not have worried too much. Before the trip I had already steeled myself for the inevitabilities of traveling with a large group of elderly women. The perpetual need for bathroom stops, incessant photo taking, and stragglers who inevitably meandered into shops were exactly as I had anticipated. What I did not anticipate was how young at heart the group could be.

Hong Kong meditators arriving in Bonnevaux
Hong Kong meditators arriving in Bonnevaux

One night, we inexplicably found ourselves at a hip rooftop restaurant complete with dark lighting, booming bass, and comically posturing DJ who concentrated very hard on the Lizzo songs he put into rotation. Exhausted after the long day, I watched incredulously as the rest of pilgrimage ladies sprang up to dance, even pulling along Fr. Sean, our pilgrimage priest, to join in!

An inspiring and diverse group

Dance party aside, I also did not anticipate meeting such a diverse group of Christians. In my mind, I had naïvely lumped everyone together as “old people”, yet the pilgrimage participants varied greatly in age, socioeconomic level, political view, Christian denomination, meditation experience, and travel experience. Everyone was united in an earnest desire to be closer to God, and the dedication and enthusiasm with which we all participated in daily mass and meditation frankly surprised me.

Everyone was united in an earnest desire to be closer to God, and the dedication and enthusiasm with which we all participated in daily mass and meditation frankly surprised me.

Many in the group displayed a commitment to living their faith that I found inspiring. Furthermore, our group comprising both Catholics and Protestants resulted in a delightful ecumenical cross-pollination throughout the trip. On our last day of pilgrimage, I was thrilled to find myself explaining how to do Confession to a Protestant lady who was curious and wanted to try, even though she had never done it before.

Fr. Laurence during one of his teaching session with the pilgrims from Hong Kong
Fr. Laurence during one of his teaching session with the meditators from Hong Kong

Faith was and is a grounded decision

As the trip progressed, I felt immense gratitude for my parents. Of course, my mother had put together a wonderful itinerary that required months of planning, but I was truly thankful for her faith. That I wanted to come on the pilgrimage at all was a testament to how my parents had not only lived their faith, but also transmitted it to me.

For as long as I can remember, faith has been a pivotal part of my family’s life. As I grew older, my mother increasingly shared with my younger sister and me her own struggles and doubts, allowing us to see that faith was not a blind emotion but a grounded decision. That my sister and I are today both (hopefully) strong, independent, intelligent, socially conscious, and critical-thinking women of faith is because of my parents’ foresight to let us choose to be Catholic ourselves.

How my journey into meditation started

My own introduction to meditation was six years ago, when my father had forced me to attend meditation evenings with him. At the time, I was mildly annoyed and went only to keep him and my mother company. My early meditation sessions did not seem especially fruitful. I would often doze off and jerk awake awkwardly, hoping no one had noticed.

Yet on this pilgrimage, I came to relish the moments we had to meditate, whether on the bus or during our dedicated retreat at Bonnevaux. The meditation sessions were a chance to be still and surrender myself, just as I was, to God. Of course my nose would itch and my mind would wander, but nevertheless I liked to imagine that I was being enveloped by God’s unconditional love.

‘Fr. Laurence taught us that the only metric applicable to meditation was “fidelity to the practice”, and this comforted me greatly. ‘

Like an invisible balm, Jesus was slowly dissolving away the remnants of our traumas, no matter how deeply etched our wounds or how permanently tattooed our scars may be. Fr. Laurence taught us that the only metric applicable to meditation was “fidelity to the practice”, and this comforted me greatly.

A happier and lighter heart

After two weeks, I did not feel sad that the trip was coming to a close. On the contrary, I felt oddly happy about returning back home. My saints’ squad was going to be with me even if I was no longer in France. The meditation retreat at Bonnevaux had planted a germinating seed within me, and Fr. Laurence’s talks energised me to persist in meditation outside of the serene and tranquil environment at Bonnevaux. Though I’ve come back to Philadelphia a few pounds heavier, my heart is lighter after surrendering to God.


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