Seeking Ignatius the Pilgrim in Catalunya

POST BY DRobinson

Fr Trieu prepares for mass at La Cova de San Ignacio

200 km in 8 days of walking largely mountainous terrain in a mixture of early autumn Spanish weather can actually be a lot of fun.  This fundraising Camino in the steps of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, was certainly that but also offered wonderful spiritual opportunities to get more in touch with Ignatius the pilgrim and his spirituality, for the group to share faith and life.  We hope we have also raised some prayers, awareness and even some money for the Caritas Bakhita Project, the anti-human trafficking initiative of the Diocese.  

The part of the Ignatian Camino we follow runs from Verdù, just over the Aragon border in Catalunya, at the Shrine of the 17th century Jesuit St Peter Claver.  St Peter was a missionary to Colombia who fought for the civil rights of Africans trapped in the slavery of the time.  A fitting place to reflect on the evils of human trafficking of modern day migrants to Britain.  And so began the walkers’ spiritual journey too, reflecting on the gift of our own personal freedom and how we respond to this gift in our lives, following particular callings, discerning paths to take. Praying, celebrating Mass, sharing faith along the way, we began the long and windy road Ignatius himself knew as in 1522 he, too, headed along the same ‘Cami Ral’ towards the great Abbey of the Black Madonna of Montserrat.  And, surely as for Ignatius and any walking pilgrimage out in the open air, you can’t not be in touch with God’s creation.  So, as for Ignatius, we began with gratitude for how, made free creatures in God’s image, we are part of his creation and the plan God has for us within it. 

As the walking targets for each day got longer, so the spiritual theme of personal freedom went deeper.  We asked the question Ignatius asked on the road: “what does it really mean to be a pilgrim?”  To be heading to a place of religious significance is one answer. It might be Lourdes, Walsingham or Jerusalem. Part of it is the actual doing of the journey, of putting in the effort to get there, whether walking or by other means.  But, as in life, what we do and why we do it are intertwined. On one level our reason was raising prayers, awareness and funds for Project Bakhita.  But there is an inner journey on a pilgrimage of this sort which mirrors the journey of life.  Ignatius' own camino through these villages, towns and countryside, getting closer and closer to Montserrat and Manresa, mirrored an inner journey which led him to reflect on how the gift of his personal freedom represented true detachment from worldly concerns and desires, and ultimately his indifference to what life would turn out to be for him in God’s plan. 

In the town of Igualada, destination on Day 4, c 80 km in, not named in Ignatius’ autobiography but most probably the 'large village not far from Montserrat', he symbolically and actually shed his clothes to put on pilgrim garb.  Ignatius' journey appears to most modern-day pilgrims to be very dramatic.  It is of his time.  But it raises the question: what is the equivalent of a pilgrim's sackcloth and sandals?  What do I need to let go of to be truly free, detached, indifferent?  What do I, at least, desire to desire to let go of?  I like to think Ignatius was thinking and praying about this over this long journey along the same ancient pilgrim road, perhaps talking as he did to the Lord's mother before whom he would lay down his sword at Montserrat.  

And so to that place of magical spiritual presence, Montserrat, the great abbey built into the mountains, where Ignatius spent three days in prayer before the Madonna and child.  Here we rested to recover from our travails through hot sun, woodlands, straight roads, winding roads, wind, thunderstorm and lots of driving rain: all things ordinary and extraordinary in God's creation.   It was wonderful to rest here in this sacred place and to have time to reflect on Ignatius' own journey, to know the presence of God in all things: ordinary, transcendent, struggle, achievement, joy, peace. And to honour Our Lady, who I think must have taught him so much about how to follow her son, who follows her generosity in holding out her hand in an embrace of all God's creation, in hard times when we cannot respond as fully as we are able to the angel's call, in the persevering every day, in the brighter moments of Magnificat clarity, even through cross, tomb and darkness.  Surely it was here, I thought, the inspiration for the structure of the Spiritual Exercises grew stronger within him.   

And so, finally, to Manresa, where Ignatius spent several months composing the Spiritual Exercises; where, following his conversion and handing himself over to Christ at the foot of Our Lady of Montserrat, he wanted to share this experience with the world, guiding us through an experience-led process of reflection and prayer based on our being loved sinners, following Jesus in his human life and ministry in the Gospels, his passion and death, tomb, new life. 

The Ignatian Camino is a treasure still being developed as an apostolic work of the Jesuits worldwide: a new way of doing an Ignatian retreat for individuals and groups.  2016 will be a jubilee year for the Camino and at Farm Street we hope to continue to help develop this initiative, both for awareness and fundraising projects and to provide new ways to bring Ignatius’ spirituality of inner freedom to those who seek it on life’s journey.  

To support the Bakhita Appeal, just  follow the link to the Bakhita fundraising page

Dominic Robinson SJ, Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street