Prayers and Reflections

Our story of the Camino Ignaciano 

By Christine Jurisich & Darlene Carlson

When you commit to a journey of faith, you are on a lifelong pilgrimage, persevering through the ups and downs of life step-by-step. You are forever a pilgrim walking into the light. That is what Retreat, Reflect, Renew facilitator Darlene Carlson and I learned last month as we embarked on an Ignatian pilgrimage in Spain. For ten days, we traveled through the sites that mark the conversion story of St. Ignatius, founder of The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and creator of The Spiritual Exercises, a book of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices to help people deepen their relationship with God.

We want to share the experience with you—our thoughts and pictures before, during, and after—as a way to connect all of us on this spiritual walking path together. In the beginning, we were excited and anxious. During the trip, we laughed and we cried. We felt both strong and weak, bold and humbled. We are home now, filled with new knowledge and a deep sense of unknowing. Yet we understand the most important thing our guide told us repeatedly: “Come on, pilgrims. Keep walking!” When we are engaged on our paths, we are all pilgrims on the journey toward new life, one step at a time.

Christine’s Thoughts Before Leaving

I am not the adventurous type, and I often feel anxious before traveling. I am also very discerning and rarely say yes to anything without thinking, praying, and allowing space and time to get a sense of where God is leading me. This was different. 

The second Darlene texted me early on a Sunday morning a year ago with, “Look at this pilgrimage! We should go!” I knew I was called to do this. It was the kind of knowing that comes from within, when my whole body, mind, and soul feels in sync with God. 

I am now one day from leaving, and I still have that deep knowing within me. Yet, there is also fear of the unknown and fear of letting go. As I try to pack simply, I see the pilgrim lessons are already beginning. I don’t want to be too cold or too hot or too sore or too hungry. In other words, I want to make sure I am comfortable and prepared for every situation! It is hard to trust that I will be okay no matter what! 

I have spent the past month working hard to finish projects and hand over aspects of the ministry to others so I can be fully present. Now I feel scared. What will happen when I am walking in the quiet without the need to check my email or phone? Who am I when I am not caring for my family or tending to ministry? How can I be without a deadline? I want to know, but I don’t want to know. I want to feel that spaciousness in my heart, yet I don’t want to feel it. I sense God calling me to that open space; it feels exciting and terrifying. This prayer by Henri Nowen speaks to me. 

Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love—unconditional, everlasting love. [1] 

Darlene’s Thoughts Before Leaving

As I prepare to go on pilgrimage, I feel both excited and hesitant. There is a voice inside that calls me to do this, from the time I saw this Ignatian Pilgrimage and asked Christine if she wanted to go, when we committed and waited to see if it would really happen…and here I am, just days before I leave! 

There is a part of me that is scared. Leaving my family for 14 days feels uncomfortable. I sense spaciousness, maybe even loneliness. I feel homesick before I have even gone, and yet I long to go for what I am not sure. It feels risky, yet is something I know I need to do. I am noticing a tug within me, that tension of the both/and. I wonder if this is how my heart is making room for less of me and more of Spirit. 

I find myself praying more, especially as I wake in the early hours of the morning: “Thank you, God, for the gift of this life. Be with me as I slow down and meet you on this path. Walk beside me. I do not know what to ask, how to be, so just be with me as I take this journey.”

Christine Valters Paintner’s quote from her book, “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” speaks to me:

…This is why we journey:  

to retrieve our lost intimacy with the world, 

every creature a herald of poems 

that sleep in streams and stones. 

“Missing you” scrawled on a postcard sent home,

but you don’t follow with 

“wish you were here.” 

This is a voyage best made alone. [2]

What is a Pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place. People of most religions have been taking them for centuries. The purpose of a Christian pilgrimage was summarized by Pope Benedict XVI in this way:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe. [3]

The Ignatian Way Pilgrimage 

Our ten-day pilgrimage was organized through Spiritual Directors International. Darlene and I had the blessing of experiencing this journey with fourteen other spiritual directors led by Jesuit Jose Luis Iriberri Diaz and with spiritual guidance from Mercy Sister Honora Nicholson. In 2011, The Society of Jesus assigned Fr. Jose Luis the task of beginning and promoting The Ignatian Way (the Camino Ignaciano). 

We started in Loyola—St. Ignatius’ birthplace—and traveled south (both walking and by bus) through the different towns that were significant to Ignatius’ conversion story, ending in Manresa, the place where he wrote The Spiritual Exercises. Through the walking, touring, praying, and celebrating Mass, we were invited into a mind, body, and soul experience of St. Ignatius’ conversion story in a way that invited us to experience our own conversion stories.  Here are some pictures and reflections of our pilgrimage. 

Christine: This is a picture of Darlene’s and my feet marking the beginning of our journey on the Ignatian Way logo at the steps of Casa Loyola, the birthplace of St. Ignatius. I remember taking this picture, both of us feeling so emotional. I sensed I was being drawn into St. Ignatius’ story in a powerful and mysterious way.
Darlene: Our walks were sacred. Walking in silence created a wonderful rhythm of contemplative awareness. The sounds, smells, and colors all came alive. When we had time for conversation, that too was sacred and felt guided by the Holy Spirit. As I walked this pilgrimage, I prayed for the grace to walk with Jesus every step of each day. I began to see with new eyes and felt a deeper presence of the Holy within.
Christine: This moment on the walk stands out to me. Amidst all the suffering in our country and the world, here I was, in the middle of Spain, witnessing people placing twigs in the fence in the shape of a cross. It moved me to tears and gave me hope.
Darlene: Sunrise at the Benedictine Monastery in Montserrat. The night before, I was moved after we experienced the Stations of the Cross through Mary’s eyes in the presence of The Black Madonna. I woke early the next morning to watch the sun rise, an invitation to turn to the Light, for hope in the new and glorious day.
Christine: Our time at the Monastery was powerful for me as well. Montserrat is the place where Ignatius took off his nice clothes, put on the loose sackcloth of a pilgrim, and spent the night kneeling before the Black Madonna before setting off for Manresa and his new life. I spent a lot of time journaling in this corner. What am I willing to “take off?” What am I not ready to let go?

Christine’s Thoughts Afterwards  

I am home now and having a hard time knowing how to respond when people ask, “How was it?” It was so many things. I was inspired by St. Ignatius’ love for Jesus and Mary and that drew me into a deeper love for them in a surprising way. As I sit here and wonder what to do with this new awareness, I am reminded of the St. Benedict quote, “Always we begin again.” Here I am invited to start a new relationship and to begin a new spiritual growth journey from the beginning all over again.

As a writer, I am desperately wanting to find the words to name my experience. As a retreat facilitator, I am restless as I try to think up ways to package this into a retreat and extend this newfound beauty and awareness to others. As a pilgrim, I know I have to simply walk with all of these feelings, sensations, and learnings and let them slowly blossom. I feel as if I have hundreds of seeds that were just planted into my heart, and I have a lifetime of living into their growth. This year marks the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion. As I look at all that has blossomed as a result of St. Ignatius’ pilgrimage 500 years ago, I am reminded to be patient with whatever is supposed to bloom from mine. I can hear our leader, Fr. Jose Luis calling out, “Keep walking, pilgrims.” And that is what I will continue to do. I will keep walking, and I will strive to do so with patience and trust that I am being led closer to the light, closer to God. 

Darlene’s Thoughts Afterwards 

As I reflect back on the pilgrimage, I realize that something inside me has shifted, and I was rocked in ways I did not expect. 

Walking in the footsteps of St. Ignatius every day created a sacred place for my heart to open up. My body was stretched and uncomfortable most days, and yet as pilgrims we continued on. There was a camaraderie among our leaders and fellow pilgrims of acceptance and love with a deep knowing we were all there to meet God in ways we did not yet know. 

At Montserrat, I saw the mountains as a reflection of God’s steadfast glory, a place where I felt small and powerful at the same time. Mass at the Abbey, with The Black Madonna above all, was breathtaking. Fears I carried were laid down as I trusted God’s call to hand them over. I was exposed and vulnerable in many ways and loved at the same time, burdens lifted, and I felt a renewed freedom to be who God created me to be. I was surprised by my faith in this new way, with Jesus as a true friend walking beside me. 

The Camino Ignaciano awakened me to be a pilgrim all the time, and now that I am home, I am experiencing a new way of living each day with renewed attentiveness and gratitude. 

Christine: You don’t have to travel to be a pilgrim. You just need to keep walking and stay engaged. When you set the intention to keep walking towards the light—through the suffering, the questions, the uncomfortable moments, the joys, and the letting go—you are on a pilgrimage. There were some emotional and exhausting days for me, but I kept walking. And I walked at my own pace. Darlene is a much faster walker than me and she chose some extra challenging paths. Our different approaches and pacing spoke to the different ways we were experiencing God and they were both equally powerful and fruitful. I know Darlene and I both have a renewed energy to keep walking with you on your journeys. However you want to walk, let’s keep walking together.

Darlene: The metaphor of how a sunflower turns towards the sun is often used by the Jesuits; we look to the Light, humbled and ever so grateful for our life, full of joys and sorrows and new beginnings. I am blessed to witness this journey with our fellow pilgrims and Christine; and with you on the sacred pilgrimage of life seeking to find God in all things. 🌻

[1] Henri Nouwen, “A Prayer,” Henri Nouwen Daily Meditations (blog), Henri Nouwen Society, April 30, 2022.  [2] Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of A Pilgrim (Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books, 2015).  [3] Wikipedia, “Pilgrimage,” Last modified May 16, 2022.,mother%20of%20Constantine%20the%20Great.