Pilgrims ponder

September 9, 2008 in General, News

Ignatian pilgrimageLast week’s AMDG Express carried an account by Fergus O’Donoghue SJ of the Ignatian Journey which he helped to lead in Spain this August. Based on the story of St Ignatius’ life, this pilgrimage made a strong impact on the thirty-four Irish people who undertook it. One of them – Deirdre Soffe, Director of the Partnership in Mission office – writes here of the terrific camaraderie and of the profound insights they gained into the life and mind of St Ignatius Loyola. Click on ‘Read more’ below.


Deirdre Soffe

When the journey was proposed by the Partners in Mission office last spring, the Provincial gave his wholehearted support to it. And so the hunt was on, to gather some willing pilgrims. A ready and enthusiastic response came from a very broad group indeed. Then, in Belvedere College SJ at the end of May, the group first met face to face, many for the first time.

At the end of the trip, in Barcelona, we reflected on the composition of the group of 34 – which resembled a ‘roll call’ of all the forms of Collaboration that GC35 suggests might be fruitful. We had colleagues working in Jesuit Ministries (Messenger, Slí Eile, Milltown Park and M. Institute, the Curia, Vocations, Clongowes Board and Alumnae and Coláiste Iognáid staff) along with Jesuit Priests, a Brother, Sisters from the Ignatian family, a diocesan Priest and we also had lay spiritual guides, members of CLC, a Jesuit relative and members of the Ignatian Family – of various ages, interests, backgrounds etc.

After the event, many agreed that they had had no real knowledge of what to expect. Many went with a personal sense of seeking out a more intimate knowledge of Ignatius, his life and times. Since we have returned the pilgrims have done a wonderful job reflecting on their experience and giving us feed-back.

If like many of us, you have never engaged in this sort of exercise – either because you never had the opportunity or if you think a Journey or pilgrimage would ‘not be your thing’ – here is a brief summary of what was experienced and the highlights of the experience.

What you might like to know, but could be afraid to ask

The companionship, friendship, fun, wit and good humour of the group was a high point for everyone. Never mind if we were all coming from different places or standpoints – When we arrived, we all found how much we had in common. (See mix of people above), so a good motto could be ‘come as you are’.

A deeper appreciation of the story and biography of Ignatius was a shared desire – and there was space and time to do that in Loyola. Many reported a profound sense of place, heightened by the natural beauty of Loyola and Montserrat – a rediscovery of simple fascination with the man himself, his life and how it touched their own lives.

People took things at their own pace, most felt very encouraged and enjoyed the input, which was voluntary. Privacy was respected, which many found helpful.

Those working with the Society found it an excellent way to deepen their engagement with the Society and with six of our Jesuit colleagues in the group. There was plenty of opportunity for discussion and a sharing of perspective – with much wit and humour.
Many of the religious on the trip remarked that they found the exchanges gave them hope and renewed their sense of ministry.

In the quiet time available, some felt a magnetic pull to spend time in the Chapel of the Conversion. Many found a profound peace in their desire to spend time in the room of his birth – perhaps especially those who themselves have had children. It was a sense of ‘reflecting on your life experience’.

The architecture, art work, and places of significance which we visited prompted a great appreciation of Ignatius in his time. We travelled extensively by coach, which some found tiring – and added appreciation of the great distances he walked.

‘Pure tourism’ became a low priority; many felt that this type of trip was very special in a different way. Despite the wonders of Barcelona, many reflected that they wanted more time, more space, and more contemplative time in Loyola. Tourist Spain could be revisited at another time. A different agenda can prove surprising!

In the words of some of the participants: –

“The best part of the trip for me was the time spent in Loyola It seemed to have the right balance between doing and being. We had more time for formal and informal sharing. There were places indoors and outdoors conducive to reflection time.”

“The days in Loyola were very special for me. I liked the pace of things there and having the time just to ‘be’ and to go back and spend more time in the places where I felt inclined to do so. I liked the mix of seeing places of interest together with times for reflection, prayer and relaxation.”

“Just being where it all started and then, in Manresa, by the river where I felt it really started spiritually had a very profound impact on me.”

The marvelous thing was how well the group worked together. Participants had come from as far away as Pakistan and Canada, some could sing (or not sing!), play instruments, climb mountain peaks or speak Catalan!

There was great delight in meeting up with Fernando Galligo SJ who had returned to Spain and was in Xavier on retreat, especially from Slí Eile colleagues– an experience of the friendship in the international Society.

The group agreed that they benefitted greatly from Joe Greenan’s excellent organizational skills, Brian Grogan’s spiritual guidance, Fergus’s extensive knowledge of the terrain and the biography, and the Province support for the project. Participant Eileen Kane deserves special mention as our willing and able Ecclesiastical Art expert who added greatly to our appreciation of the rich artistic heritage. Eileen’s enthusiasm was probably responsible for the rather large statues of the seated Virgin being brought home as hand luggage!

All in all, the encouraging message from practically everyone was that any misgivings or concerns they had about engaging in the trip were unfounded. Many were enriched by the experience of companionship and reflection in unexpected ways – including myself!

For those of us organizing the trip it was an initiative to develop collaboration. It was the first time that Partners in Mission went ‘off-shore”, and there were many question in our mind as to how it might work. The GC35 Document “Collaboration at the heart of the Mission” which was issued shortly before we left sets out many considerations that will develop collaboration in support of the Mission. The journey proved to be a real experience of collaboration and the task now is to find ways to build effectively on this for the future.