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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

The Way to Manresa: Discoveries along the Ignatian Camino

Going on pilgrimage is an ancient tradition. In medieval Europe pilgrims would leave the safety of their own homes to travel to Rome, Jerusalem, or Santiago de Compostella in repentance, for an intention or to fulfill a promise. This means putting themselves at the mercy of the elements, possibly risking life and limb, and defending the hospitality of others The renewed popularity since the 1980’s of making a pilgrimage along Northern Spain’s Camino de Santiago (or the way of St. James) as well as society’s contemporary fascination with pilgrimage in all its forms is perhaps an attempt to recover ancient values, basic humanity and a hint of the divine. Either way, it is a step into the mystery of the unknown and opening oneself to providence. There are 3 significant pilgrimage walks mentioned in this text, which are intimately connected to each other:

  1. In 1993 when I was training as a Jesuit novice, I was a poor pilgrim walking across northeastern Spain in the footsteps of Ignatius, visiting the key sites connected with his conversion process. This journey from Ignatius’s birthplace, Loyola, to Manresa, where he wrote the Spiritual Exercises, would subsequently become the Ignatius Camino but was then unstructured and ad hoc. The issue for me at that time was confirmation of my decision to join the Jesuits, which arrived in the form of an eleventh-hour “mountaintop” experience. This profound encounter shaped my prayer and spirituality and subsequently motivated me to organize groups walking Irish pilgrimage trails as a way of replicating the pilgrim’s process of becoming free.

  2. In 2011, I walked the widely known Camino de Santiago as a way of dealing with grief, and this led to the publication of my book Redemption Road. In that book I worked to comine the spirit of Ignatius (finding God in everyday experience) with the ancient route of the Camino (pilgrimage as a journey of discovery), focusing on themes of purifying the soul, shedding baggage of all sorts, and becoming free. This book unexpectedly also launched me into the ministry of suicide bereavement.

  3. In 2015 I returned to Spain to walk again in Ignatius’s footsteps, retracing the same sixteenth-century journey from his birthplace, Loyola, to Manresa. This time, however, the trail was newly organized, launched by the Spanish Jesuits in 2010 as the Camino Ignaciano, or the Ignatian Camino. It will mark the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’s journey in 2022. Though not strictly a “Santiago” Camino, it uses the same system of way markers, a website and a guidebook, this marrying the Camino tradition with the actual towns and landscapes where Ignatius himself passed through and spent time. It goes East across Spain and runs in the opposite direction to the famous French Camino de Santiago, and at one stage between Logrono and Navarrete, pilgrim share the same trail.

This book details the author’s adventures on the Ignatius Camino in 2015 where, finding myself caught up in a whirl of bereavement work. I recognized the need to reconnect with the sources of my vocation through the Ignatian sites, as well as recover the sense of peace and inner balance from my 2011 Camino de Santiago. The Camino seemed the perfect marriage of the two, a Camino style trail with a strictly Ignatian flavor.

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