Italy - Catholic Pilgrimages


Pope St. Paul VI: The Pilgrim Pope

This past October 14th, the much-beloved Pope Paul VI officially became Pope St. Paul VI as Pope Francis canonized the beloved figure of the Catholic Church as one of the newest saints.


Born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 in the village of Concesio in Lombardy, Italy to a well-established family of observant Catholics, the future Pope was educated by Jesuits and joined the seminary at a young age, becoming a priest by 1920. He continued his education and served the Catholic Church in a variety of different posts, including as Secretary to the office of the Papal Nuncio to Poland in 1923. His subsequent responsibilities in the Church until his election to the Papal seat in 1963 and installation as Pope Paul VI impressed upon the Pontiff the importance of international relations and connectivity, and undoubtedly helped lead him to recognize the importance of expanding upon the tradition of pastoral visits and Papal pilgrimages.

The Beginning of Papal Pilgrimages Throughout the World

Today’s younger generations of Catholic faithful may think it strange that a Pope would not take pilgrimages throughout the world, but prior to Pope St. Paul VI, such a thing was a rare occurrence, and the practice was mostly limited to Italy. While the development of modern travel and telecommunications made it possible for Papal pilgrimages to occur with greater ease, it took the innovative leadership and vision of Paul VI to see that it was not only possible, but necessary to lead the Catholic faithful into the modern era.

And travel he did! Between 1964 and 1970, Pope St. Paul VI conducted nine pastoral visits and papal pilgrimages to twenty countries on six continents, excluding pastoral visits within Italy. His first Papal Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jordan in 1964 was the first of its kind since the establishment of the Holy See, the first pilgrimage of a Pope conducted by airplane, and the first Papal visit of any kind outside of Italy in over a century. To this day, the Papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land is well-remembered across the Holy Land, and is seen as a milestone of the Christian presence in the land of the Fifth Gospel.   

The Papal pilgrimage to the United States in 1965 was another milestone, and was seen as the “coming of age” of American Catholicism, with the Pope meeting the US President Lyndon B. Johnson, holding a mass in Yankee Stadium, and even addressing the United Nations.   


Pilgrimage to Fatima

In May of 1967, the Pope paid homage to the Marian Shrine of Fatima in Portugal. This papal Pilgrimage was designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Fatima, and stressed the importance of the ever-present intercessions of Mary in the frequently troubled and often questioning modern world. The pilgrimage did much to raise its visibility as a place of pilgrimage and led to an increase of funds for the facilitation of pilgrims. Today, the Pastoral Center of Paul VI recalls this visit.

The Continued Tradition

Though his declining health prevented pastoral visits and Papal pilgrimages in the last eight years of his life, and the brief tenure of Pope John Paul I before his death made it impossible for any such journeys to be organized, Pope John Paul II continued on the new practice to great success, and was followed by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in doing so.

As with so many other of his innovative works, Pope St. Paul VI led by example through his numerous pilgrimages, reminding the Catholic faithful of the millennia-old practice of pilgrimage throughout the world. Rather than being a relic of Medieval times, Paul VI highlighted the relative ease of pilgrimage through the gift of modern travel, while not downplaying its seriousness and sanctity – or its fulfilling results – as a means of living the life of the Church.


Follow the example of Pope Saint Paul VI and take a pilgrimage with Good Shepherd Tours!  See Fatima for yourself with our Spain and Portugal pilgrimage tour, or consider adding a tour of the childhood home of Paul VI in Concescio to one of our Italy & Rome pilgrimages! For more information on how to book your next pilgrimage, contact

Brynne TurnerComment