About Us

henro.org logo

Henro.org is a digital hub for pilgrimages around the world. We focus on digitally preserving and promoting pilgrimages by building modern technologies. We are committed to our global community of adventurers, pilgrims, and academics.

Henro.org believes that pilgrimages are full of liminal merits: the thrill of adventure, spiritual growth, ecopsychological immersion, and exposure to new cultures. We focus primarily on camino-style pilgrimages (What We Do).

Henro.org is owned and operated by Henro International, which is based in Atlanta, GA, USA. We are proud members of the following organizations:

World Trails Network logo
Shikoku Henro Guide-Interpreter Association logo

Leadership

Auran Buckles ◇ Co-founder

Auran first walked the arduous Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in the summer of 2014. Inspired by the journey, she created “JPilgrim” in 2015, which eventually became Henro.org. Auran is an attorney-turned-senior software engineer who believes new technologies can address modern problems shared by pilgrimages around the world.

Auran was honored as a World Trails Ambassador by the World Trails Network in 2022.

Auran Buckles - Headshot

Nate Harris ◇ Co-founder

On the recommendation of a haiku professor, Nate walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage in 2015. Afterward, he completed multiple pilgrimages throughout Europe. Nate is a marketing leader with 8+ years experience growing online communities and software teams. He believes in the positive impacts of pilgrimages, including their role in SDGs, cultural exchange, local economic sustainability, and interpersonal growth.

Nate was honored as a World Trails Ambassador by the World Trails Network in 2022.

Nate Harris - Headshot

What We Do

On Henro.org, you’ll find:

  • Multilingual pilgrimage information and online guides
  • Tools like cost calculators and itinerary planners
  • Interactive maps, reviews, and photos
  • User-generated pilgrimage journals
  • Pilgrimage media
  • Volunteer and community opportunities

We also aim to support the academic field of pilgrimage studies. We are currently working on partnerships with educational institutions and non-profit organizations similarly passionate about this cause. If you represent such an organization and would like to collaborate, please contact us.

Pilgrimages We Focus On

“Pilgrimage” is a surprisingly abstract concept – there are thousands of trails, events, and rituals around the world which call themselves a pilgrimage. They can be religious, syncretic, or secular; their purpose (depending on the culture) can range from adventure to mourning. In fact, there is a rich field of academia dedicated to the phenomenon of pilgrimage and our near-instinctual desire to do it.

Henro.org focuses on “camino-style” pilgrimages, which are a large subset of pilgrimages around the world. We define these as pilgrimages which are:

Open to “outside-of-faith,” “spiritually ambiguous,” or secular travelers

Although the UNWTO estimates “faith-based” tourism is a US$50-100B/year industry, many large pilgrimages practice religious segregation. For example, Saudi Arabia generates US$12 billion from Muslim pilgrims doing the Hajj each year, but non-Muslims are not allowed to participate.

Some pilgrimage traditions see their journey as strictly sacramental (to use Christian terminology); others view it as a deeply personal and introspective experience, often interwoven with spiritual discovery. While there is nothing wrong with pilgrimages that are exclusive to their own religious sect, we focus on pilgrimages which accept pilgrims from all backgrounds.

The Camino de Santiago has taught us that if a pilgrimage wants to be an anchor for open sustainable tourism, its religious contingent should not bristle at pilgrims who come from different faiths – instead, it should welcome them. Instead of seeing those with foreign beliefs as intruders, religious leaders must see them as opportunities for evangelism (or, in the very least, patrons of their faith via tourism revenues).

For example, 60% of pilgrims who completed the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2019 did not do so for exclusively religious reasons, and 11% walked for no religious reason at all.

While religion often sets a pilgrimage’s context, each pilgrim’s reason for going is unique. Curious people from one faith may draw deep value from a pilgrimage of a different faith. The pilgrimages Henro.org focuses on accept and welcome this.

Open to all, regardless of background, race, color, class, origin, gender, or any other criterion

Outside of religious segregation, some pilgrimage traditions exclude people for other reasons. Perhaps most common are exclusions based on gender, and in particular those that forbid women. Many pilgrimages around the world – even UNESCO World Heritage-certified pilgrimage routes like the Ōmine Okugakemichi in Japan – are partially or entirely off-limits to women.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with a pilgrimage discriminating according to its traditions (assuming those traditions are not rooted in malice), we do not focus on them.

The British Pilgrimage Trust’s “Open to All” policy poses the following questions:

  • How can we make pilgrimage inclusive and accessible to everyone?
  • How can we ensure that pilgrimage is fulfilling to all?
  • What aspects of inclusivity have we not yet considered in our endeavours?

Unbound by time

We focus on pilgrimages which are not “event-based” or organized around a specific date, often by centralized entities.

A pilgrimage’s “timing” often correlates strongly to its tolerance for “outside-of-faith” pilgrims. When a pilgrimage is based around a significant religious event or celebration, it tends to only appeal to (and welcome) followers of that faith. Additionally, event-based pilgrimages are often inaccessible outside of the event’s dates; we tend to focus on pilgrimages where one can go at their own pace.

Examples of event-based pilgrimages include:

  • The Pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico
  • The Hajj in Saudi Arabia
  • Marie Reine du Canada in Canada

While these pilgrimages draw large crowds and generate massive tourism value, it is a different kind of tradition than a “camino-style” pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago or the Kumano Kodō.

Significant

Henro.org asks many questions to determine a pilgrimage’s historical, cultural, and communal significance. That said, we do not only focus on historical or religious pilgrimages – we find that young and/or secular pilgrimages can also be incredibly significant to its pilgrims, and so they merit our attention.

More than a nature trek

We aim to delineate between a pilgrimage and trek (like the Appalachian Trail, which is not commonly thought of as a pilgrimage). To do so, we ask ourselves several questions, like:

  • Does the pilgrimage have an impactful destination?
  • Does the pilgrimage have landmarks along the way?
  • Outside of the hike, is the pilgrimage meaningful or significant to its pilgrims?

A hallmark of camino-style pilgrimages is a collection of stops – temples, shrines, churches, historical sites, “power spots,” villages, etc. – at the beginning, end, and (often) in-between the journey.

Many pilgrimages have a system of progress markers (often stamps or calligraphy in a “pilgrim’s passport” or book) which prove the pilgrim’s status along the way. This culture of “checkpoints” usually carries historical weight, from a time when pilgrims had to prove their status for safe travel.

Does the pilgrimage have both urban and rural locations?

Some argue that pilgrimages must not be just backcountry hiking; antithetically, some pilgrims are only interested in pilgrimage journeys that take them deep into nature. We consider a blend of urban and rural experiences when deciding which pilgrimages to focus on.

A related question we pose when considering this point is ‘Does the pilgrimage have non-camping accommodation options at most stages?’

Safe

We only focus on pilgrimages which are generally safe for any kind of pilgrim. To determine this, we ask ourselves:

  • Does the pilgrimage route take travelers through extreme terrain or survivalist scenarios (with no alternative ways or modes of transportation)?
  • Are pilgrims of a certain background, race, color, class, origin, gender, or any other criterion likely to face harm, harassment, or discrimation along their pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage’s official rules are one thing; the reality of locals’ attitudes toward pilgrims of a certain kind is another thing. If a pilgrimage is generally welcoming to all except some, with few exceptions, then we do not focus on it.