Journey Moments: Ignatius the Pilgrim

Well folks, the Journey Moments saints just keep on marchin’ in. Last week the Catholic Church hailed St. James the Greater, the apostle who gave his name to the  Camino de Santiago. July the 31st marks the feast day of another pilgrim – St. Ignatius Loyola.

Ignatius is justifiably famous for all sorts of things, but one trait is especially appropriate for our Journey Moments series: he was a traveler. And his preferred carriage was his own two feet. Ignatius walked all over Spain. He walked between Spain and Paris several times over. He walked from Paris to Venice and then to Rome. And all this less than a year after one of his legs was nearly removed by a cannonball. Ignatius never got rid of the limp, but it didn’t stop him from being a man on the move, or as he styled himself “the pilgrim.” 1

Perhaps the most famous of his wanderings is the one that marked the beginning of his pilgrimages. As Ignatius recovered from his leg injury in 1521, he made a choice that would change the course of his life forever: he decided to forego his pursuit of knightly bravado and to devote himself instead to the imitation of the saints. A mere eight months after he fell in battle, the young caballero left his royal inheritance behind, laid his sword at the feet of the Black Madonna, and set out toward Barcelona.

This first pilgrimage, as you can imagine, has an iconic value for devotees of Ignatius. In it they see the firmness of his conversion, his youthful determination, and his best intentions put into action. In ways both literal and metaphorical, these were his first tender steps toward becoming the wise and prayerful soul that, many years later, founded and directed the Society of Jesus.

The stretch of road between Loyola and Manresa is known by current-day fans of Ignatius as the Camino Ignaciano, or the Ignatian Way. This week’s pilgrim is a recent veteran of the Camino and a long-time admirer of our traveling saint. Indeed, Pau Vidal could be called a son of Ignatius – he joined the Jesuits more than ten years ago and was ordained a priest last June. Like many candidates for priesthood, Pau wanted to devote some time to prayer and reflection as he approached the big day. Unlike most, Pau chose to pray on the move, making an itinerant retreat along the same road that his spiritual father took almost 500 years ago. In this week’s post, Pau talks to us about his experiences on the Camino Ignaciano and how it shaped the final days of his path to priesthood.

Author’s Note: Pau is one of a growing number of Jesuits and laypeople who recognize the emblematic power of Ignatius’ first journey and have decided to retrace his steps. Some of them have found it so rewarding that they even set up a multilingual website to spread the word. The Camino is open to anyone, by the way; if you’re looking for some out-of-doors enlightenment, click here for maps, travel tips, and lots of other information about El Camino Ignaciano!

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  1. This is not exaggeration: in his autobiography, which covers Ignatius’ life from his young manhood to the foundation of the Society of Jesus, he referred to himself in the 3rd person as “the pilgrim”.  Maybe this 3rd person stuff was humility… or mabye Ignatius was just an early Ricky Henderson.

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