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A pilgrimage is a pious act with many motivations in holy tradition. It symbolizes our journey toward God, which for a Christian is the very meaning of life. It is a journey with Christ, who said "I am the way" (John 14, 6). And it is an opportunity to put the Faith at the center of our lives, if only for a few days.
In the Gospel of Luke 2:41, we learn that the Holy Family went on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The first Christians preserved this Jewish tradition, and the Church has always encouraged it.
There are many places that attract pilgramage in the Catholic Church, especially Rome, because the Apostles Peter and Paul lived and taught there, were martyred there and are still buried there along with many other saints. In addition, Rome has a special significance for pilgrims during the Holy Years.
The Holy, or Jubilee, Years have their roots in Old Testament Judaism. In Leviticus 25: 9-11, we read that every 50th year was devoted to the Lord.
The first Christian Holy Year was indicted in 1300 Boniface VIII. It started in 1299 as a rumor that every pilgrim who visited San Pietro in Vaticano during the next year who be granted full remission for all sins. The Holy Father realized that this was in fact a good idea, and since the practice of Holy Years had biblical roots, he decided to proclaim it early in 1300. He also declared that this would be repeated hundred years in the future.
A few years later, the Pope Clement VI received many requests to change the frequency of Holy Years to every fifty years. He also added San Giovanni in Laterano and San Paolo fuori le mura to the list of churches where an indulgence would be granted.
Around 1390, Pope Urban VI changed the frequency again. At that time, those who were born soon after a Holy Year could not expect to live to celebrate the next one. It was decided that Holy Years should be celebrated every 33 years, in memory of the time Christ spent on earth. In 1390, Pope Boniface IX proclaimed a Holy Year, and added Santa Maria Maggiore to the list. He also added churches outside of Rome, allowing those who could not travel there to obtain indulgences and take part in the celebration.
Another Holy Year was proclaimed in 1400, because of the enormous flow of pilgrims to Rome as the turn of the century came nearer. Pope Martin V returned to the frequency of 33 years, calculating from 1390 since the Jubilee in 1400 had never been properly indicted. For the 1423 Jubilee, he opened a Holy Door at San Giovanni in Laterano.
Today, the frequency remains at every 25 years, and the opening date is still Christmas Eve. In addition, there has been several extraordinary Holy Years, the last a Marian year in 1987.
During Holy Years, indulgences are granted to those who visit certain churches. In Rome, there are seven such churches. We owe the number to St Philip Neri, who devoted much of his time to helping pilgrims and introduced a list of seven basilicas. The list has changed throughout the centuries, and for the Jubilee of 2000 it is:
- San Pietro in Vaticano
- San Paolo fuori le mura
- San Giovanni in Laterano
- Santa Maria Maggiore
- Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
- San Lorenzo fuori le Mura
- Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore
In addition to the churches, indulgence is also obtained by visiting one of the Shrines.