Throughout human history many people of faith, religion or none have found themselves undertaking a journey to a particular place – a pilgrimage. Why? Perhaps it is because they want to go to the destination. For others, it may be the need to get away from their current environment, to take stock of their life or to have some time to reflect on a particular decision that might need to be made. In the Christian tradition places such as abbeys and cathedrals, which have relics of saints or where apparitions have reportedly taken place, have become destinations for those seeking to know God more closely, to repent of sins, to pray and reflect. Places such as Fatima, Santiago, Rome, Lourdes are some of the oldest and most popular Christian pilgrimage places. Pilgrimage enables the individual to have the sense of freedom from perceived chains of a situation. A freedom that enables them to know themselves better, to be reliant on the Divine.
When reading about St Ignatius Loyola one often comes across him being described as “the pilgrim”. In many ways, it is right to do so. It was the description used to describe his journey in the Autobiography. For St Ignatius it was initially the destination – Jerusalem, the Holy Land. He wanted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to be in the places where he gave the parables, where he healed the sick, where he was crucified, where Jesus ascended to heaven. Whilst Ignatius did get to the Holy Land and stayed there for a short period of time, in many ways it was his journey there that had the greater influence on him. (One should never discount the impact that being in the Holy Land has on an individual – just ask one who has been.)
But for Ignatius, it was the experience of the journey, the road travelled. From his sickbed in the castle in Loyola to his being sent home from the Holy Land, Ignatius had travelled through much of Spain and Italy, by boat and by foot, with companions and alone. He begged for food and ate at the tables of nobility, working in the hospitals for the sick and conversing with many about God and other spiritual matters. On the pilgrim way Ignatius journeyed to places such as Manresa, Montserrat, Venice, the Holy Land, La Storta, Rome – always seeking God and trying to find and know God’s will. It was these experiences that Ignatius remembered when speaking with the first companions in Paris, when he was writing the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Constitutions. It was with these experiences in mind that he wrote letters to Jesuits scattered across the globe on various missions.
We too are pilgrims on the road, in our individual journeys towards God, and together as Church – the pilgrim people of God. Like Jesus and the disciples, Ignatius and the first companions it is on the road travelled, in the bread broken, the stories shared that we seek and hope to find God.
Isaac Demase SJ, Chaplain, The Cardoner Project
The Cardoner Project is a not-for-profit, student-focused hub for volunteering, founded in 2010 by Jesuit priest, Fr David Braithwaite SJ. thecardonerproject.org