As our pilgrims finish their fifth day on the Camino Ignaciano, they find themselves just under 60 miles from where they began. Christine Eberle and Fr. Josep Luis Iriberri, S.J. have been cataloging their thoughts through the journey and what follows are their reflections from along the way.
Christine Eberle: The pilgrims ended Thursday with Mass in the Chapel of the Conversion in Loyola Castle. We had spent the day visiting sites in Ignatius’ hometown: his family home, the church where he was baptized, a chapel in the hills where he used to slip away to pray, and the lepers’ hospital where he stayed when he returned to Loyola for a short time. The Chapel of the Conversion was a most powerful place to pray, contemplating the suffering Ignatius endured there and the courage it took for him to allow God to lead him in a new direction. Today we will allow God—and Fr. Jose Luis Iriberri—to lead us away from Loyola as well, walking 15 miles along the Urola River to Legazpi. Saint Ignatius . . . Walk with us!
Father Iriberri: Day One was in Loyola. We went to the house of Íñigo of Loyola and visited the wonderful basilica, the small hermitage of Olatz, the parish with the baptismal font of Ignatius and the Magdalena Hostel. That was the first day, trying to be walk with the shoes of the adolescent Íñigo. We get in touch with the green of the mountains and the sound of river Urola. We felt this “iron land” and the way in which it formed the personality of young Íñigo. At the end of the day, the celebration at the chapel of conversion was our intimate moment to get close to him and to feel that perhaps his transformation could be a model for us as well. So, let’s see if our long pilgrimage is going to bring some fruits of spiritual insights for us.
Christine Eberle: So, we had quite the day today! It was 25 kilometers, walked between 8:30 – 3:00 p.m. including two stretch breaks and a lunch break. We kept up a good pace, rendezvousing once an hour so that we stayed together. Fr. Iriberri brought up the rear, encouraging the flagging walkers. Having reached the destination, our bodies are hurting but our spirits are soaring! The terrain was gorgeous; we were on an old railroad line that’s been converted to a walking/biking path. Beneath us was the Urola River and the winding highway on which the bus had traveled the on Wednesday; above us, forests soared. One of the highlights for everyone was the opportunity to walk two hours in prayerful silence. While we are grateful for the community of pilgrims, without the designated time for silence we wouldn’t have the solitude needed to make this pilgrimage a true retreat. So here we sit in Legazpi, a lovely little town, where we have time to shower, do some sink wash, hit a grocery store for tomorrow’s lunch, and have dinner at our hotel at 8:00. Tomorrow is 18 kilometers but it’s a big climb, up into the mountains where we will stop for our bagged lunch at the top, then down into Arantzazu where we will celebrate Mass at the Shrine, which Ignatius himself visited on his pilgrimage.
Father Iriberri: From Loyola to Legazpi. Wonderful day that started a bit foggy, but the sun came up soon into our walk. We are in October, but it seems more like beginning of September. Weather has changed so much that we cannot recognize the seasons. The light wind was just a bit chilly which was perfect for the walk. Pilgrims have walked pretty well: it is a big group, so we must be aware of the different needs of everyone. Always watching carefully the bicycles that sometimes run too close to us. There is a good ambience and all are ready to help if needed. We then spent two hours in silent meditation and followed by sharing the wonders of the walk. Lunch time in Urretxu, with a wonderful milkshake. We finish our step in Legazpia, in Hotel Mauleón: tomorrow is going to be much more complicated, so we want to sleep as close to the mountain as possible. Arantzazu is our next destination, and we know that it is going to be a test for our physical condition. We have the afternoon to rest, to write in our journals, to read… and to buy at the supermarket our food for our lunch tomorrow!
Christine Eberle: Highlights from our quite challenging third day included traveling up and over the mountain from Legazpi to Arantzazu. We set out before sunrise to hike along the mountain path. During our trek we passed the thorn bush from which Our Lady of Arantzazu takes her name. During a time of drought and conflict more than 500 years ago, a statue of the Blessed Mother appeared in a thorn tree and was found by a shepherd. This brought an end to the fighting and the drought; ever since, Franciscans have preserved the site and the statue as a place of pilgrimage. Ignatius came here when he left Loyola. We then summited the mountain and afterwards were able to pause for a moment to pray. We then arrived at our hostel: Ignatius Slept Here! (Or at least his mule did, as he kept an all-night vigil at the shrine.)
Father Iriberri: Today began in early morning, it was still dark when we left Legazpi, Hotel Mauleón. Again, the temperature is crazy high: 63°F on October 8th! The day is foggy but not rainy, which is good for us, and we can walk the first part quite fast. After Mirandaola and going up to Barrendiola, we stop for a pause to check in with each other before the tough part of the step. We start walking at 7:30 AM and we expected to arrive to Arantzazu in 7 hours … we almost did it: at 3:15 PM we were having lunch in Goiko Benta – Arantzazu. We intended to stop and have lunch at the highest point of Biozkornia but we were walking in a very deep fog and quite wet, so we decided not to stop and keep waking towards Arantzazu. The fog spoiled our hopes for a wonderful view. Instead, we had to watch carefully so as not to get lost or lose one of the pilgrims. But we were lucky: no rain at all. The steep going up was difficult for some pilgrims, but with encouragement we arrived safe and sound at the top. Though, on the walk down some pilgrims mentioned they preferred the walk up to the trek down as the wet fog had turned the rocks into a very slippery surface. Some pilgrims slipped and fell on our way down, but thankfully no injuries. We were really happy to reach Arantzazu and to have our lunch in Goiko Benta. After a relaxing hot shower, we went to the Shrine of our Lady and after the visit we celebrated mass. The deep meaning of this place is related to reconciliation and peace, so we enjoyed the silence of the shrine and we asked for peace and mercy for us and for all the world. A very nice dinner in Goiko Benta was the last gift of this difficult and arduous but rewarding day of pilgrimage!”