Beloved brothers

July 5, 2024 in Featured News, News

A group of eight mostly Jesuit alumni from Tampa, Florida, walked twelve days of the Ignatian Camino, from Loyola to Manresa in June 2024. Seasoned pilgrimage leader and author, Brendan McManus SJ » led the retreat. Sadly one of the team members, John Tempone, died suddenly on returning home. The reflection below on the pilgrimage, written by Brendan is in memory of John.

Band of Brothers

This walking pilgrimage was about seeing the key Ignatian sites (Loyola, Arantzazu, Navarette, Manresa etc.) first-hand and on foot as pilgrims on the Camino trail that links these sites. More than just a walk, it was about getting insights into the person and story of Ignatius Loyola, and how he put together the Spiritual Exercises and the unique formulation that is Ignatian spirituality, particularly the focus on inner experience. There was a considerable reflective element to this, it was about seeing where this pilgrim God was active in pilgrims’ own life and work. We put into practice the Ignatian tools of reflection and the Examen.

This was a retreat-style walking pilgrimage to these key Ignatian sites with built-in quiet time and personal reflection, and the opportunity to debrief at night in our small group. We had input every morning on the life of Ignatius based around Ignatian themes, e.g. reflection, freedom, etc. (mainly from Discover God Daily » by McManus & Deeds), and then in the evening had mass with a faith sharing (spiritual conversation) on the experience of the day.

The pilgrimage helped pilgrims get inside Ignatius’ own experience, literally walking in his footsteps, and having pilgrims integrate it with their own lives directly. Essentially it was a modified version of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. It also helped make sense of terminology such as discernment, the Spiritual Exercises, the Examen, and reflection. It was a taste of the Jesuit noviciate pilgrimage experience, putting faith into action and making prayer real.

Our daily mass was often a special moment, sometimes we were in a small chapel but more often than not the itinerary dictated that we had a ‘stripped down’ pilgrim mass in a hostel room or bedroom, a small intimate affair where we felt like the original apostles celebrating the Lord’s supper. What was most striking, apart from the intimate atmosphere, where the liturgical words seemed to take on new life. At the Sign of Peace where we embraced like the ‘band of brothers’ that we were. In fact, many of the group had seen military service in one form of other and could easily relate to Ignatius the former soldier. The slow conversion of Ignatius over many years, not a one-moment divine intervention in Loyola as is often thought, was helpful in terms of the pilgrims learning the reflective process, and also relating it to their own lives and journeys into God.

The kindness of the people we met along the way was something else. I remember someone telling me that to walk the Camino you need around 100 people to help you at different points. This was certainly true for us, from people in hotels and shops to people who went out of their way to keep us on track and give directions. Of special note was our guide in Verdú, Anna Maria Pijuan, who was an angel of light just by her very presence and beautiful demeanour. At one stage a couple out walking noticed we were lost and went out of their way to guide us back to the track. As always, people’s care and attention helped restore our faith in humanity; people are good.

Seeing the Ignatian sites in sequence, we were struck by how many were Marian. From Olatz, Arantzazu, Navarrette, and Montserrat, what linked them all together was a devotion to Our Lady that Ignatius undoubtedly had. The many statues related to Our Lady all had the same form: the Virgin Mary revered in her role as the instrument of God’s plan through the incarnation of the Son. This helped underline Mary’s role as a model of discipleship, saying ‘yes’ to God’s will, and her intercessory power. We got a sense of St. Ignatius’ view of Mary as a guide and protector, and her deep, personal relationship with Christ by her example of faith, humility, and obedience to God’s will.

Ironically, probably the biggest learning in Ignatian freedom and detachment came from things going wrong and the group getting lost. It all began with the US members of the group missing a train in Madrid and arriving half a day late in Loyola. The group had to roll with the sudden change of plan and adapt to an unexpected day sightseeing in Madrid, which they rose to right away. Then further events such as the trail being blocked by a landslide on Day 1 tested their adaptability, and later, a wrong turn outside Zaragoza which meant they walked 5 km in the wrong direction challenged their ability to let go of expectations. In true Ignatian fashion the group learned to detach from ‘disordered attachments’ or inflated expectations and became skilled in practicing ‘indifference’! This was great learning in being open to whatever God wanted, letting go of personal biases or desires, and living in the moment. This was all done with a great deal of good humour and ease, much to their credit and the creation of a positive atmosphere in the group.

It’s probably fair to say that God worked powerfully in each of the pilgrim’s lives on this Camino. We became aware of this close and intimate God who was always trying to reach us in different moments, and how we could live our Christian lives more fully. The Ignatian themes seem to emerge organically from the Camino itself: awareness of the different ‘spirits’ operating in our lives, how consolation and desolation manifested themselves, how we could block God’s spirit working, and the continual invitation to remove obstacles and live more closely to God’s will. This transformation in people’s hearts was tangible in Manresa as we celebrated a very emotional closing mass that marked how far we had come as a ‘band of brothers’ and how we had gained Ignatian insights into how to better live our lives back home.

It is with deep sadness that I write how one of our group, John Tempone, died suddenly on returning home from this pilgrimage. This was a huge shock for everyone, not least for his family. We knew John as the life and soul of the group, always ready for the day, unfailingly positive, and in good humour. He was a very spiritual man, very sensitive to the movements of the Spirit, and close to God. He was very open about his PTSD, had seen some horrors on his military service, and yet was very humble and compassionate because of that, another gift of God. We all loved him and knew him as one of the sweetest guys; he stepped off the Camino and into the arms of the Lord. John was on the ultimate pilgrimage or Camino which is the journey to be with God.

E. Anton comments:

Not wanting to risk hyperbole one shouldn’t say that this walking retreat across Spain in June was a life-changing event. On the other hand, it came awfully darn close. This particular walk with a Jesuit, a Franciscan, a feisty professional ‘cat herding’ Spanish guide and eight questioning, yet open, laymen of various denominations provided all the necessary requirements and then some. Moving single file across old, but new to the foreigners, landscapes in the forge of silent contemplation sharpened the mind’s sword to a cutting edge. Then, finally, the least often attended to, the Spirit was given a gruelling workout of exercises resulting in a substantially changed and, for it, improved being.

Steve comments:

I remember the first night that we had mass and all of us embraced at the sign of peace and I got quite emotional because I felt like I was with brothers . We hadn’t even begun our Camino. We all came with different expectations and I guess some of us with no expectations. What I saw happened to all of us was to me somewhat miraculous. I believe it was after Zaragosa that all of a sudden a change seem to come over all of us. I started to notice a definite, calmness acceptance, openness, and peacefulness among not only me, but also the whole group. To see our brother John go from his pinnacle, his highest of the high, so full of love and life one second, and then to unconsciousness with nothing in between is a beautiful mystery. I will never forget this Camino experience.

Fr. Zak comments:

During our final shared reflection at Mass in St. lgnatius’ Cave in Manresa I shared that for me, during our Camino, I was blessed to be amongst some very holy men. The entire Camino was a mirror of God’s grace where we did not hesitate to open and our lives to each other, both the joys and the heartaches. For me it was tightest bond I’ve ever experienced. I believe that in our hearts we were all in the presence of something extraordinary.

Tim comments:

I came to the Camino very excited for the adventure. I was prepared physically for the walking and very open-minded to the spiritual side and to the opportunity of bonding with the other 10 men. I was also very excited to spend this time with my brother Dan. I have a ton of great memories from our walks, our conversations and the many sites that we visited. I appreciated our daily masses and the retreat that we were led us on. I really enjoyed the time spent walking and talking with each of the men and having so much time to discuss trivial and meaningful things. It really helped me to understand Ignatian consolation/desolation that we had discussed so frequently while on the Camino. It feels like it is very easy to fall into desolation and requires an effort to get back into consolation. I am in a very good place and will strive to stay in consolation with God through my relationships with others. I will remember this experience for the rest of my life.

Pete comments:

For the 10 of us, our Ignatian Camino started with the idea of a time to unplug, reflect, contemplate, and maybe even reconcile who we are and where and how we want to “walk in the way that leads to life” (Romans 6:4). But over the course of 11 days, it became much more. Our 10 became a band of brothers. We shared with each other our lives and our faith. As with close brothers, we had no reservations in bearing our souls to each other. On one of our last days, one of the 10 missed supper. One of my brothers remarked that the supper felt incomplete because one was missing. Those words were never more true or prophetic than when our brother John died on his way back home. We take comfort in knowing that John was close to God when he died. For the rest of us, we will walk with great memories of our time together, and with prayers for our brother John.

“Special thanks to Steve Krist for organising, Enrique Higuera our local organiser and Jimmy Fullam our walk leader.”

Brendan McManus SJ

June 2024