The Collegian
Monday, May 20, 2024

Spring break pilgrimages are back after being postponed from COVID-19

<p>Photo courtesy of the&nbsp;UR Chaplaincy Facebook page.&nbsp;</p>

Photo courtesy of the UR Chaplaincy Facebook page. 

The University of Richmond’s Office of the Chaplaincy has brought back the 10-day pilgrimages during spring break for students to travel globally after a two-year hiatus from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pilgrimage program had been paused since the spring of 2020, and all international trips were canceled that year. In the fall of 2021, the chaplaincy resumed travel and went to Arizona and Costa Rica during fall break and Wyoming in May 2022. These are the first spring break international trips taken after the pandemic began by the chaplaincy. 

The pilgrimage started around 10 years ago in 2011, when University Chaplain the Rev. Dr. Craig Kocher was brainstorming with colleagues about different ways students could go beyond UR with their spiritual journeys, he said.

The themes were set: form meaningful friendships and community with students on campus, bring in diverse backgrounds, engage in the wider world beyond UR and allow students to determine their role outside of an academic one, Kocher said.

The three pilgrimages being hosted this year are to Berlin from March 3 to 12, Camino de Santiago from March 4 to 12 and Wyoming from May 8 to 14.

Students from every faith are invited to attend the retreats, said Josh Jeffreys, Jewish chaplain and director of religious life.

“The more people that we can bring into the space of various backgrounds, the more that we can learn from one another,” Jeffreys said. “We think that [this] strengthens each participant's development beyond the group itself.” 

The Berlin trip will be led by Jeffreys and the Rev. Jamie Lynn Haskins, the chaplain for spiritual life. Students will learn about the Holocaust, travel with a tour guide and move through Berlin learning about German history, specifically leading up to World War II. Additionally, there will be museums, sightseeing and meetings with locals, Jeffreys said. 

Camino de Santiago will be led by Kocher and Associate University Chaplain Bryn Taylor. Students will hike the last 60 miles of one of the most famous pilgrimages in the Western world, which converges at Santiago de Compostela. They will walk between 7-12 miles a day, stopping at local inns to sleep, chatting with locals along the way and eating delicious food, Kocher said. 

Finally, Wyoming will be led by Kocher and  Taylor at the end of the year rather than in the middle. 

“For Wyoming, there’s a longer period of time to be together,” Kocher said. “The pilgrimage itself feels like the culmination of something.”

Additionally, the students involved will go on daily excursions and primarily focus on spiritual health. They will meditate, pray, hike, be in nature and contemplate their spiritual journeys, Kocher said. 

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The actual class will include little outside work, but will mostly consist of bonding activities, museum trips, dinners with the group and an occasional podcast or article to read. Typically, they’re more front-loaded with  work to do before the trip, and they tend to become more reflective after the trip has finished, said Jeffreys. 

Pamira Yanar, a junior who went on the first domestic pilgrimage since COVID, said they not only found many new friends, but also found a new community within the Spiritual, But Not Religious group (SBNR). They also went on to say that the trip was a mix of entirely different people, all over the religious spectrum and everyone was entirely welcoming, no matter their background. 

“I definitely think it was one of the best experiences that I’ve had here,” Yanar said, referencing their time on the fall break pilgrimage to Arizona which was focused on yoga and contemplation, similar to the Wyoming trip in May. 

Applications are due Nov. 1 for students interested in attending the trip. 

“It can be a high point in their time at Richmond that gives perspective on where they’ve been and where they’re going,” Kocher said. 

Contact news writer Rosalie Hinke at

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