Gonzaga’s annual Pilgrimage has been known as a way for Zags from all walks of life, from students to alumni, to gather and reflect together. Last year, a group of around 150 people traveled by foot for 11.5 miles throughout the Northern Idaho wilderness, ending their trip at the Cataldo Mission outside of Coeur D’Alene.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s annual Pilgrimage hosted by the Office of Mission and Ministry has been moved online. Despite the need for social distancing, the office has worked to create a safe event for all who attend, although it may look a little different than years prior.

The director of Mission and Ministry, Luke Lavin, along with the rest of the team, has been preparing for this event since this summer, with the knowledge that this year would not look like Pilgrimages held in the past.

“The way we’ve done Pilgrimages in the past has been big busses of people, starting with a collective meal and ending with a collective meal, hiking in very close proximity,” Lavin said. “Weighing all those risk factors it became very evident that there was really no way to do something like this given all the restrictions.”

With those restrictions in mind, this year’s Pilgrimage is being hosted as a personal Pilgrimage, where participants walk or hike on their own time in between Sept. 5 to Sept. 19. The Pilgrimage will wrap up with a digital gathering where the pilgrims can discuss their personal journeys, while reflecting on the past year.

“Anyone who’s registered and done the Pilgrimage will gather together on Sept. 19 via Zoom and do a quick reflective exercise, and hopefully have folks gather and share what their experiences were, what commonalities there were,” Lavin said. “Noticing that we are doing things on our own but acknowledging the community around that.”

With the restrictions in mind, the Office of Mission and Ministry teamed up with GU Outdoors to map different hikes around the Spokane area for the pilgrims to walk on their own time. GU Outdoors provided hikes of different difficulty levels, as well as places for those participating to stop and reflect while on their journey.  

“Usually we rely on a lot of other collaborators, we have the folks from ROTC that will be out with us, we have port-a-potties on the paths, we have vendors that are bringing in food,” Lavin said. “This go around we’ve had to nix all of that and engage with different collaborators. Not only GU Outdoors, but finding ways to communicate this and market it the right way.”

The Office of Mission and Ministry has worked this year with Housing and Residence Life to market that this would be a safe, socially distant activity that Resident Assistants can share with their residents, and relaying that this is something that is valuable for students, staff, faculty and alumni.

“This is a much more open availability to this approach,” Lavin said. “Hopefully it brings much more diversity to the experience.”

The Pilgrimage being held virtually means that Zags can participate from no matter where they live. Senior Paulina Thurman is participating in the Pilgrimage from her hometown in the Bay Area in California.

Thurman has been doing daily walks during the duration of the Pilgrimage, and has to wear a mask while outdoors, according to recommendations made to those living in the Bay Area. Breaking up the Pilgrimage into daily walks has limited the long amounts of time outdoors that has been advised against in the area.

Thurman’s daily walks have always been a staple of her spiritual development, which she has been regularly doing since the beginning of quarantine back in March. 

“I feel like I am at my most creative and engaged self when I’m able to express that in a physical way,” Thurman said.

An unexpected obstacle for many of the pilgrims that live on the West Coast has been the wildfires and the hazardous air quality. GU has issued warnings for those living in Spokane to stay inside due to the poor air quality in the area.

Thurman’s hometown has made headlines in the past few weeks for having some of the worst air quality in the world, coupled by the bright orange skies that illuminate the town for the majority of the day. 

It was recommended that people who would like to participate in outdoor activities wear masks that block out the smoke.

“It does kind of prevent that sense of community I feel because whenever anyone is wearing a mask it’s kind of harder to get that emotional connection,” Thurman said. 

The smoke that is harboring over all of the West Coast seems symbolic to the true meaning of a Pilgrimage, as well as this year’s events.  

“One of the nice parts about any kind of pilgrimage is that you don’t really know what to expect,” Lavin said. “Hopefully something good and something beautiful finds you along the way.”

Registration for this year’s virtual Pilgrimage can be found on the Office of Mission and Ministry page on the GU website under 2020 Gonzaga Pilgrimage tab until Sept. 18.

Lindsey Wilson is a staff writer.

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