Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Dispatches from the Camino, Part 5

by | Nov 10, 2022

Hopefully you have been keeping up via social media with our Pilgrims on their Camino journey which came to an end last week with their arrival at their final destination of Manresa! If not, be sure to check our Facebook and Instagram up on photos and stories from the trip.

Below is the fifth and final piece written for us by IVC Philadelphia/South Jersey member and published author Christine Eberle, a salute to the Camino’s guide, Fr. Jose Luis Iriberri, SJ.

Thank you all for the support you have shown our pilgrims along their journey!

“If the Ignatian Camino has been a long, tumultuous ride down ever-shifting rapids, these last days in Manresa and Barcelona have been a waterfall, cascading us to the abrupt end we knew was coming, but which seemed to catch us by surprise nonetheless. The pilgrims’ goodbyes have been hard; after so much time in each other’s company, it’s almost inconceivable that we’re scattering not only across the country but around the globe. The most gut-wrenching farewell, however, was the one we had to say to our faithful guide: Fr. Jose Luis Iriberri, SJ.
How can I capture this amazing man in words? Perhaps the shortest and most accurate thing I can say is that he is a true son of Ignatius. (He even looks a bit like the Saint, being of Basque descent and cultivating a bit of an Ignatian beard!)

Let’s start with this: Fr. Jose’s knowledge of Ignatius is encyclopedic. He freely shares a vast amount of information about Iñigo’s life, culture, and spirituality each day. He is intimately familiar with the terrain the Saint traveled, pointing out churches where he worshipped, streets over which he traveled, buildings where he conducted business, and hostels where he might have stayed.

It is one thing to know about Ignatius, however, and quite another to know Ignatius and to model one’s life after him. That is the experience of traveling with this man: the sense of being in the company of one of Ignatius’ close companions.

Fr. Jose has been our guide through both the outer and inner landscape of the Camino. Backpack on, walking stick in hand, he moves like a mountain goat, lightly, over any kind of terrain, knowing every twist and turn of these hundreds of miles—most of which he has marked by hand. But he also knows the contours of our hearts, watching us carefully, listening closely to what we say and don’t say, reading our faces, and offering sage observations. He knows when to encourage a flagging pilgrim, when to offer a bit of respite, when to lighten things up with a joke, and when to put his foot down if one’s ambitions exceed one’s abilities.

The practical tasks he has done on our behalf are staggering, starting with arranging (and sometimes re-arranging) housing and meals for 17 to 25 people for a whole month. Sometimes he’s taken our lunch order two days before arrival at a remote bar/restaurant; when the food starts to come out, he ferries it from the kitchen, shouting out the names of the sandwiches to hasten the process. He’s performed first aid on the fly, lancing blisters in his own room at night and taping up a pilgrim’s potentially sprained wrist after a fall on the road from Montserrat. Drawing on his skills as an administrator in the Ramon Llull University school of tourism, he’s used his connections along the length of the Camino to arrange meetings with mayors, local experts, and those all-important persons-with-the-keys-to-the-churches, so we can slip in after hours to ponder and pray.

Fr. Jose wasn’t always an administrator, however. He was also a campus minister, and it shows! He knows how to frame our prayer at the beginning and midpoint of the morning’s silence, when to gather the group to check in about how we’re feeling or lead us in a touch of the Examen, and just what song to play during our communal prayer to evoke feelings lingering just below the surface.

Like a spiritual Zumba instructor, Jose deftly switches up the pace as needed. A few nights in a pilgrims’ shelter will be followed by one in a surprisingly nice hotel. A long climb will be met at the top by a cafe straight out of Brigadoon. A torturous descent will be followed by rest in a woodsy clearing. A sparse breakfast will be followed by a luxurious one. (“Comfort comes soon after a well-received trial,” Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley would say!) Jose seems to know exactly how far he can push us, and when it’s time to ease up.
A classic example of this happened during our 17-mile walk from Montserrat to Manresa. After our customary sandwich lunch, we were lacing up our boots and using the restroom and generally preparing to hit the road again, when he said “Oh, we’re not leaving yet. Go to the ice cream freezer and pick out a treat for yourself!” (Best. Dad. Ever.)

As I sit on the roof deck of our final Camino hotel, gazing at the Mediterranean in one direction and La Sagrada Familia in the other, I can say with some certainty that it was batty of Fr. Jose and battier of us to attempt this journey together. But here we are: feet worse for wear, minds overflowing with images, memories, and convictions we want to retain, and souls transformed—we pray—in ways that will continue to unfold in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Let me close with the words I shared at our final gathering. “Fr. Jose, you have taken such good care of us, and you have taught us so much, not only through your words but through your example. You have modeled Ignatian spirituality, Ignatian indifference, and Ignatian generosity. If, as Ignatius said, love should consist of deeds more than words, you have loved us very well indeed. You told us at the beginning that pilgrimage can change the world, and we have come to believe that this is true. Thank you, and may God continue to bless you and your ministry.”

Saint Ignatius, keep walking with us!

– Christine Eberle, IVC Philadelphia/South Jersey”