This year 2022 marks the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’s journey from his home in Loyola in Spain’s Basque country to Manresa near Barcelona. The Ignatian Camino closely follows the route taken by Íñigo in 1522. From Loyola, the Camino heads south then east through picturesque villages, cities, mountains, deserts, lush farmland to Manresa – one month and some 650km away. Manresa is the site of Ignatius’s spiritual awakening and where he composed his spiritual masterpiece, the Spiritual Exercises.
In 2013, with 18 fellow Australian pilgrims lead by Fr Michael Smith SJ, my wife Jan and I walked the full Ignatian Camino. In 2017, we returned and walked the first three and last seven days of the Camino. Before Covid put pay to all plans, several of the 2013 pilgrims were planning to return and walk part of the Camino in this special 500th year.
So, what draws us back to do this? Other than the wonderful experience of walking halfway across northern Spain, why walk this Camino? Fr Jose Iriberri SJ, the Spanish Jesuit commissioned in 2011 to design and promote the Ignatian Camino (our advisor in 2013 and guide in 2017), describes it as a 28-day outer journey and an inner journey. “The outer journey will be reasonably well marked. The inner journey less so. For some it will be about forgiveness or reconciliation, for others a new direction or course in life, a confirmation of a major life choice, or a renewed or rediscovered sense of personal identity.”
After a few days walking, your job, your purpose, becomes to walk each day. Life simplified. Silence, walking in contemplation, gentle conversation. Observing; paying attention. Becoming part of a faith community of fellow pilgrims as you move as a group day after day. Looking out for each other. And with moments of profound grace: the rising sun streaming through the mist in the morning cool; the sudden summer thunderstorm on the open plain; the conversation with locals with no spoken language is common…
All of this in the footsteps of Ignatius. Praying in the same churches, stopping at the same crossroads, climbing the steep slopes of Montserrat to the Benedictine Abbey where Ignatius dedicated his life to Jesus, then finally to Manresa.
Like most seminal experiences, the Camino is not easy. Days can be long; the sun beats down; the night’s accommodation is always at the far side of town. You need to train and plan for several months before you go. Spain is a long way away. But….it is worth it. Deep, profound revelations may arise; whispers of insight will. The experiences of the Camino last. Insights may well take days, weeks to surface. Many learnings will last a lifetime. And a warning. After you have experienced walking the Ignatian Camino once, you will want to return for a second time.
With thanks to Michael Bertie for this contribution to our Erromeria pilgrimage. Michael belongs to the Being with God in Nature Team in Victoria and gives many Contemplatives Walks as well as the Australian Ignatian Trail.
For a taste of the Camino experience in Australia, JISA offers the Australian Ignatian Trail. The AIT follows in the footsteps of the first Jesuits in Australia who landed in Adelaide in 1848 and made their way north to the Clare Valley. The AIT starts from Gawler outside Adelaide and after seven days arrives at the Sevenhill Centre of Ignatian Spirituality in the Clare Valley. There is also a shorter four-day pilgrimage starting at Kapunda.
DISCOVER HERE https://jisa.org.au/retreats/category/australian-ignatian-trail/
EXPLORE HERE https://caminoignaciano.org/en/ for information on the Ignatian Camino