Catholic Pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers like Saint Jerome. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The second largest single pilgrimage in the history of Christendom was to the Funeral of Pope John Paul II after his death on April 2, 2005. An estimated four million people traveled to Vatican City, in addition to the almost three million people already living in Rome, to see the body of Pope John Paul II lie in state.
World Youth Day is a major Catholic Pilgrimage, specifically for people aged 16-35. It is held internationally every 2-3 years. In 2005, young Catholics visited Cologne, Germany. In 1995, the largest gathering of all time was to World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines, where four million people from all over the world attended.
The major Catholic pilgrimages are to:
- The Holy Land, location of many events in the Old Testament and New Testament:
- Jerusalem, site of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.
- Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus and King David.
- Nazareth, hometown of Jesus.
- Rome on roads such as the Via Francigena. Site of the deaths of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and other early martyrs.
- Lourdes, France. Apparition of the Virgin Mary. The second most visited Christian pilgrimage site after Rome.
- Istanbul, Turkey, Former capital of the Byzantine Empire and the see of one of the five ancient Patriarchates.