Carol Percin, a local organizer of pilgrimages, poses last year at Cape Finisterre in Spain along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Percin said OCP Pilgrimages will not start again until it’s clear that travel will be safe.
Carol Percin, a local organizer of pilgrimages, poses last year at Cape Finisterre in Spain along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Percin said OCP Pilgrimages will not start again until it’s clear that travel will be safe.
The coordinator of OCP Pilgrimages is keeping a close eye on international travel regulations, health safety measures and COVID-19 vaccine developments.

Carol Percin, local dean of Catholic pilgrimages, said she hopes the sacred trips can begin before long. But OCP will not send anyone anywhere until conditions are safe, said Percin, who has organized the pilgrimages for 17 years.

OCP, or Oregon Catholic Press, is a Portland-based liturgical publisher and owner of the Catholic Sentinel and El Centinela. The pilgrimages the company organizes have helped support the newspapers for more than two decades.

Percin has deeply missed the pilgrimages, postponed because of the coronavirus. She said nothing can replace a trip to holy and historic places, having the Eucharist daily, experiencing different cultures and traditions, and forming a deep communal and spiritual bond that is unique to those on pilgrimage.

“Pilgrimage is all about relationship and experiencing things as a Catholic together with others, sharing our faith in all aspects of what we do,” Percin said.

She invites local priests like Msgr. Tim Murphy, Msgr. Pat Brennan, Father John Kerns, Father John Henderson and others to be spiritual directors on pilgrimages to places like Italy, France and the British Isles. Two trips planned for 2020 and now postponed were an exploration of Finland, Estonia and Russia and a holy trek to attend the ancient once-a-decade Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany.

Percin said the most important part of OCP pilgrimages is daily Mass.

“It brings all the experiences together,” she said.

Virtual pilgrimages leave a lot to be desired. Online, it’s hard to form those communal connections that are so satisfying, said Percin. Also, a priest stepping away from his parish duties for an hour is in a much different spiritual place than a priest who has left the usual duties far behind to enter the sacred time and space of a pilgrimage.

Percin is in daily touch with airlines, pilgrimage guides and other vendors she has known and trusted for years. Keeping the relationships strong will help when travel can start again, she explained. For the time being, Americans cannot go to Europe or Asia. That’s because COVID-19 is not under control in the United States.

OCP tends to have repeat pilgrims, some of whom go on almost every trip. Percin is in touch with them and considers them friends. She is famous for her attention to detail and organizing prowess.

The big question, and one not even Percin can answer yet, is “When will travel be safe?” Percin said the prospect of a vaccine is hopeful, but OCP will not rush back.

“OCP is really focused on the safety and well-being of all involved, from priests to every pilgrim who travels with us,” said Percin.

She has many ideas for future pilgrimages but is holding off on scheduling until circumstances become more clear.

After travel starts again, pilgrimages may be different, Percin predicts. The groups may be smaller and more spread out. Airlines may have fewer seats and there may not be as many hotel rooms. But Percin works with people she calls “the best” and is confident pilgrimages will still be accessible. OCP already charges less than many for-profit companies.

When asked about her most meaningful memories on pilgrimages, Percin has a surprising answer. She recalls the few moments when someone got ill or hurt; always, the other pilgrims stepped forward to help with deep compassion and camaraderie.

“These are really, really good people,” said Percin. “They are part of our pilgrimage community. People come together in ways that are awe-inspiring.”

edl@catholicsentinel.org