A journey beyond

POST BY RdelosReyes

Canoe pilgrims in training Credit Canadian Jesuits
Canoe pilgrims in training Credit Canadian Jesuits

René de los Reyes SJ, a British Jesuit currently studying philosophy at Regis College in Toronto,  reflects on his participation in the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage.  The 1500 mile, 28 day pilgrimage is an initiative of the Jesuits in Canada to promote a deeper intercultural dialogue and understanding during the year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation.

A canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness is an adventure of a lifetime. The collective goal of the paddlers is to promote awareness to the public on the ongoing reconciliation between the First Nations people and non-native Canadians. What could be the aim of an individual paddler joining the canoe trip? What are the motives that drive him to paddle for 28 days? What does he seek to achieve at the end of the canoe trip? The aim of an individual joining the canoe trip is to experience a pilgrimage, or a religious journey, finding God in others and in every possible situation. Joining this trip will lead him to experience being with nature, a creation of God for everyone to nurture, and to experience a growth within through a deepening appreciation of prayer and deed.

The route of the canoe trip starts in Midland along the shores of Georgian Bay heading north to the French River to Lake Nipissing. The journey continues to Mattawa River and to the length of Ottawa River heading to Montreal as the final destination. As an individual canoer, he will be able to immerse himself in the wilderness and appreciate the wonders of nature, a terrain and landscape unfamiliar to him. He will use his senses to appreciate God’s creation by listening closely to the sounds of nature, recognizing the smell of the surroundings, noticing the temperature of the breeze, water, dirt, wood, and observing the raging or calm waters of the rivers and lakes, the towering trees, the carpet of wild grass and flowers, the endemic animals and insects and everything around him. This will give him a chance to be grateful to God for the amazing experience of being one with God’s creation. This experience of a lifetime is where God’s wonders shares to him to discover and be blessed in the process.

map of the route

As a paddler, the pilgrim considers this canoe trip as a religious journey with God. This journey will allow him to have a deep conversation with God by listening to his inner thoughts and feelings, and finding God’s will in his life. Prior to this pilgrimage, he offers a prayer for acquiring a deeper wisdom in accordance with the will of God. The pilgrim believes that the wish will help him go through his lifelong journey of being a servant of God for others. As he goes through the canoe pilgrimage, he is aware that God can be found in the hearts of other paddlers. In confidence, unplanned moments with the paddlers will greatly inspire him through their personal testimonies and experience in life. He is looking forward to the mysteries that God will unfold as he goes through this journey and that God will work in every situation, be it in consolation or desolation.

The Examen, a prayer of deeper reflection on the events of the day, will help him uncover the moments that made an impact on his journey, be it consolation or desolation. Going through the Examen prayer will help him focus in his thoughts and feelings, and be aware of his actions in response to any situation. Such awareness towards himself and others will help him learn and grow in his life as a religious. This introspection will help him understand the working of the Spirit in the daily events and encounters with others. Being open to the promptings of the Spirit will guide him to recognize and understand aspects in life that need gratitude and reconciliation. This process of growth will eventually lead him to become a better person.

As with every journey, we plan our path and prepare to face any possible obstacle along the way, and we look forward to the journey full of determination to achieve the goal. This holy journey leads us to experience a deeper conversation with God and with others. This journey into the wilderness provides a profound experience to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation. This journey creates a path to learning undiscovered aspects of personal life and eventually grow into a mature relationship with God, others and ourselves. Going through the process of change needs a will and commitment. Full of confidence, the person offers this intimate journey to God and trusts in the promise of Jesus’ words, “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find it, knock and the door will be opened to you.”(Luke 11:9). Communally, the paddlers hold on to the words of Jesus. We ask, we seek, and we knock. We aim for reconciliation, a reconciliation that will heal the wounds of the oppressed people.

Read more about the pilgrimage