Jeff and Teresa Redder of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, are pictured during their pilgrimage to Greece.  Courtesy photo

Jeff and Teresa Redder of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, are pictured during their pilgrimage to Greece.  Courtesy photo

By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

Where is the gold in the golden years? Ask retirees, and one of the first responses is travel. The gift of leisure after years of a daily job creates great freedom to indulge one’s desire for adventure.

Today’s travel, however, is not all about covering territory, but seeking enrichment. 

“Seniors have time to travel without having to plan around vacation weeks at work,” said Teresa Redder, a member of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly. “Being on a pilgrimage eliminates worries. I don’t have to plan the route or find buses. It’s all done. All you have to do is to feel what it’s like to be on this road, in this place.”

In the Diocese of Trenton, pilgrimages can be found in the Sunday parish bulletin, with announcements about trips to Lourdes, Fatima, Rome, the Holy Land and more.

A number of parishes in the Diocese are already booking pilgrimages for this year, such as the Meeting of Families Tour of Ireland in August, headed by Father Damian McElroy, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown.

In November, Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of both St. Jerome Parish, West Long Branch, and St. Mary Parish, Deal, will lead a 13-day Impact Tour of South Africa, where travelers will visit game preserves and historical landmarks as well as take part in service projects to benefit the children in towns along the way.

Four experienced travelers discussed their experience as pilgrims and the benefits and challenges of being a 60- or 70-something traveler and offered tips to make the trip easier.

“Traveling is adventurous and exciting. Even if it’s rough and tough like when I visited Eastern Europe and saw war-torn cities,” said Susan Simpson, parishioner of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, a recently retired nurse. “It was a great history lesson. I learned so much about the way people live. You see how people in Third World countries struggle to maintain what they have.” 

Friendships – as well as a Rosary from every country she visited – are her souvenirs. On a cruise, she made friends with people from Australia whom she has met on subsequent trips.

 As a nurse, she stayed behind to look after the older members of the tour and noticed their challenges. “Europe and the Holy Land have cobblestone walks and steep staircases. Often people need to stop midway. I tracked the mileage on my phone – we’d walk up to seven miles daily. People traveled in wheelchairs or with oxygen. Fellow travelers took turns helping them up ramps.” 

Her advice to senior wanderers: travel while still healthy, research the destination for cultural differences and respect its standards.

“If they say ‘No sleeveless, no shorts,’ have something to cover up with,” she said.

She also suggested travelers prepare by stocking up on hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and tissues because public bathrooms may be lacking. 

In 2000, Jean Schardt was a new parishioner of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, when she booked the parish pilgrimage to Germany’s Passion Play in the small village of Oberammergau.

“I didn’t know anybody,” she remembered. “By the end of that trip, I knew everybody and became part of the parish. There’s camaraderie knowing your fellow parishioners. When I travel with other parishes, I make more friends.”

She noted the physical challenges of some sites. “People need to do their homework to be sure they can keep the pace. Many countries are not as helpful as the U.S. is in assisting the aging or the disabled.”

Schardt advised, “Not too much luggage.  You need to carry your own. Restrict to one piece. Plan ahead; check the weather to pack the right things. Then when you get there, relax. Go with the flow.”

 Redder and her husband, Jeff, relished the richness of religious history and the beauty of the landscape when they traveled, but noted the countless steps at pilgrimage sites.

 “Don’t wait until you’re too old. Go while you are able,” Jeff Redder said. 

Addressing safety, they recommend enrolling with the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive safety bulletins about foreign destinations.

Other tips: research different pilgrimages online, and do everything on the travel company’s checklist.

 The greatest takeaway, senior pilgrims said, was the deepening of their love for God and their faith. 

“Your religion comes to life,” Schardt said.  “When I hear, ‘Jesus was in Capernaum,’ I get it. I know how far the temple was from St. Peter’s house.  These aren’t just words in a book anymore. I have a deep feeling of closeness knowing I walked where Jesus walked.”

“The story of Mary’s Visitation came to light for me,” Jeff Redder said. “That was a 90-mile travel on foot, which she repeated three months later through difficult terrain. I am much more aware how the Gospel relates to me now day to day.”

Teresa Redder fell “in love with St. Paul” after her pilgrimage tracing his footsteps through Greece and Turkey.  “I appreciate his courage, how much he braved to grow the Church.”                

 “There is much to learn and know about our religion,” said Simpson, whose trips moved her to become part of her parish’s Lazarus ministry. “We must set time aside to meet with God and be changed. I came back to do more for Christ – not for me, but for others.”