A journey to a spiritual place can rejuvenate the soul.
Whether it's a visit to a shrine, a monastery or a holy city, those who have made pilgrimages to places they consider sacred say the trips give them peace and strengthen them to encounter the circumstances of life.
People from various faiths will share the value of such journeys at the 2009 Matter of Faith Summer Series to be held at 7 p.m. the four Tuesdays in July. The annual series is sponsored by the Interfaith Committee of the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) Pastor Jennett Wertz walks the labyrinth with Jacob Baney at Garden Heights United Methodist Church. Once a walker reaches the center, he or she may take the opportunity to meditate or pray. People who attend the first session of the Matter of Faith Summer Series, sponsored by the Interfaith Committee of the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona, will be invited to walk the labyrinth Tuesday. It also will be open to anyone during the month of July.
Susanna Tomlinson, president of the conference, said the faith summer series began after Sept. 11, 2001, to education residents about faiths different than their own and to dispel fears.
"People think we are so different. We are a lot more alike than we are different," Tomlinson said. The series helps residents to see those similarities, she said.
The theme is Pilgrimage and Holy Places.
The idea of seeking new places, new relationships and new understanding is key in all three Abrahamic faiths," said Cindy Baney of the ecumenical conference.
"God's call to Abram to 'Leave your native land and go to a country that I will show you' is the beginning of the journey - both literally and spiritually. Abram's act of faith has set the stage for generations of pilgrims. The pilgrimage may be literally a journey to a holy place of history or it may be an internal journey of insights and faith," she said.
Pilgrimages to holy places by the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith will be highlighted.
The first session will be held at Garden Heights United Methodist Church, 109 Bellview St., where Pastor Jennett Wertz will facilitate a panel of presenters who will speak about the significance of the historical Jerusalem to the three Abrahamic faiths and portions of the PBS documentary "Jerusalem: Center of the World" will be shown.
Attendees at the first session also will experience a pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth outside Garden Heights church.
Wertz said that in the Catholic tradition if people could not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they would walk the labyrinth as a substitute for the trip to the holy city.
The labyrinth, patterned after the one in Chartres, France, is a temporary one made from 800 feet of ribbon.
"The walk is meant to replicate life," Wertz said. "It has twists and turns, just as life's journey does," she said.
The labyrinth will be available to anyone who wants to walk it during July. Wertz said the way people walk the labyrinth is open to the individual.
"Some people pray, some meditate and others seem to be attentive to what's on the ground," she said.
Wertz said the walker does not have to think about where he or she is going.
"The path leads you in, and the same path takes you back into the world," she said.
"As you walk it, you release what you carried in, and when you get to the center, you rest. When you walk out, you visualize yourself invigorated," she said.
Although pilgrimages end up being refreshing, the process can be spiritually exhausting, said Father Stephen Lourie, pastor of St. George Orthodox Church. He is one of the speakers for the second session to be held at Agudath Achim Synagogue, 1306 17th St.
Lourie will speak about monasteries in Alaska and Arizona where he has been on pilgrimages.
Lourie said much of the retreat consists of praying and attending services. He said a pilgrimage is "extremely beneficial" and can bring peace to the participant.
"It's a holy place and all the people are there for the same purpose. You can relax and think and go places in the spirit that you might not be able to go to at home," he said.
The Rev. Mark Begly, pastor at St. John's Catholic Church in Lakemont, will share photos and reflections on his recent pilgrimage to Turkey and key biblical sites for Christians at the same session.
Shamsa Anwar will talk about pilgrimage to another Middle Eastern country - Saudi Arabia - in the third session to be held July 21 in Room 150 of the Hawthorn Building at Penn State Altoona.
Anwar will share the importance of Mecca and Medina for Muslims. Each year millions of Muslims travel to Mecca to perform the centuries-old rituals of Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and is mandatory for every able Muslim.
At the fourth session, Bishop Jere Cross of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will talk about trips the Mormons make to the temple. It will be held July 28 at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 309 Lotz. Ave. He said members of the ward in Hollidaysburg who have Temple recommends go to the Washington, D.C., Temple once a month.
Cross said it is a time to "go to the house of the Lord and get out of the world." Everyone wears white temple clothes and is treated equally. "We focus what the heavenly Father wants us to do. We refocus on what's important in life," he said.
Cross said normally Latter-day Saints feel strengthened by a visit to the Temple and feel they can handle their world a little better.
Hazzan Michael Horwitz spiritual leader of Agudath Achim Congregation, and Bill Wallen, director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, will talk about the Western Wall and and the significance of Jerusalem as a holy city for Jews.
They will explain the history, significance and customs associated with the land of Israel, including the pilgrimage festivals and the importan