I started the “Camino Ignatiano” together with another novice, Mark, in Loyola on the on June 1st and we arrived in Manresa July 3rd. It was the 3rd experiment of our novitiate and, I would say, very much successful. We decided not to take money for food or lodging, though we had emergency money. So we begged for food and lodging all the way from Loyola to Manresa. It was really a great experience! One night we slept on the floor of a church terrace, another night – in an albergue, and another night in a Jesuit or other religious house. Except at the Jesuit house, we could not say straight away that we were novices from the Society of Jesus. And in all truth – we never experienced a shortage of food or difficulty finding a place to sleep at any point, because of the openness and generosity of the people we met. Of course, there were some cases, as when we had walked more than 400 km, and had to sleep on a rather thin roll mat and woke up feeling like we had broken our arms and legs, or picked wild fruit or were rejected by the people we approached while begging. But everything turned to a deep consolation. I noticed, that God was following us all the time and he took special care of us in the hardest moments of the pilgrimage. There was a day of heavy rain with thunder and lightning between Javier and Bailo in Aragon. Nevertheless we continued to walk. After walking more than 30 km on that day, both of us being wet and tired, we still could not find a place to sleep. Providence led us to a shop, where the shopkeeper took us by her car to an albergue in Arres, which was 7 km away. Even though we had to walk an extra 7 km the next day, we were happy to have slept in normal beds, eaten warm food, talked to other pilgrims walking the „Camino Santiago” and been accepted with open arms by the wonderful volunteers from the association of pilgrims of Santiago there. Another great experience of God’s Providence touched us in Igualada. There was the only time we were rejected in an albergue. But God led us to an infirmary, run by some nuns, where we met two nice ladies. One of them, Marie Mercie invited us to stay in her house. Not only was then the possibility to have a rest and Catalonian food, but also we were driven to the center of the city to visit the churches, participate in the Mass, meet other family members and have our clothes washed and ironed. I felt as though I was at home there. Ramon, Marie husband, took us to the point to start walking to Montserrat early the next morning. In the Cathedral of Igualada we found a statue portraying St. Ignatius asleep, a reminder that he rested in the town on his journey 500 years ago. What a coincidence! And I can say that similar adventures happened in almost every place, which we passed. God is wonderful and great! He is the God of surprises!
The pilgrimage not only strengthened my faith in God, but also gave many chances to get to know the life of St. Ignatius and other Jesuits. We visited Loyola, Azpeitia, Pamplona, Xavier, Verdu, Montserrat, Manresa, Barcelona. Every time I was surprised and deeply touched, how God had led Ignatius to become His disciple and collaborator for His kingdom on this Earth. I was surprised and could meditate again how God changed his life from a romantic officer into a zealous spiritual leader and founder of a new religious order which helped to change the lives of other people too. This was a consoling experience for me as a Jesuit novice. In Xavier I could meditate on the remarkable life of Francis Xavier, reading his letters, and visiting his birthplace. And a fantastic welcome, an informative guide and explanations of father Antonio were mostly appreciated. There also we found an impressive exhibition on the Jesuit reductions in Paraguay in the 17th and 18th century. Missionary spirit has always been the outstanding charism of the Jesuits. Another inspiring Jesuit awaited us in Verdu: Peter Claver, known as „the slave of slaves”. His dedication for the poorest, his fearless, inflaming example in the New World show us again how to turn away from an egocentric life and do something more for others. We visited seven Jesuit communities on the pilgrimage too. Their hospitality, kindness and dedication to their ministry today was also a very good witness for us, showing what does it mean to be a Jesuit in the twenty first century.
Another grace, received on the pilgrimage, was the experience of natural beauty and ancient Christian history. The fantastically eroded peaks of the mountains at Riglos, Montserrat, Santa Maria de la Pena, Sarsamarcuelio and other places, the deep valleys and steep rocks with medieval towns, castles, hermitages, monasteries and churches on top remain alive in my memory. I come from a very flat country, Lithuania, where the highest point is about 300 meters above sea level, so to observe this wonderful landscape in the Basque country, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia was another time for meditation and consolation.
The history of Christianity in my country covers little more than seven hundred years. Meanwhile in Spain it goes back to the first centuries. First of all, we can remember the way of St. James in the country, who, according to a legend, went to most north-western part of Spain, called by the Romans “Finis Terrae”, “end of the world”, to preach and convert people to Christianity. I also visited the relics of St. Lawrence, who was born in Huesca and was killed in Rome in the 3rd century. The oldest Christian churches surviving in Spain were built in the 4th century, whereas in Lithuania they date from the thirteenth century. The history of the fortresses built by the Templars in Monzon and Lerida gave me another opportunity to reflect on the harsh times of the crusades to the Holy Land as well as to the Baltic region.
Probably another interesting topic could be: what was the biggest challenge? For me it was the heat. The second part of the pilgrimage, when we crossed the Pyrenees and entered Aragon, and then Mediterranean Catalonia was very much hot and sometimes humid! The temperature would rise up to 42+C (it kept like that for several days and then would go a little bit down and up again), so we would walk early in the morning and stay in the shadow in the afternoon. But still it was impossible to survive without drinking cold water, pouring it on the head, and chewing mint tablets. There was one day in Berbegal, when I went to sleep totally exhausted and got up in the same mood. So I asked my fellow pilgrim to stay for another day there just to recover.
I am really grateful to God, my fellow novice Mark, and the novitiate in Birmingham, sending us on this pilgrimage, which proved a great experience.