A Life-Changing Trek Started by a Saint: The Ignatian Way

Chris Lowney, former Jesuit seminarian and co-author of the Guide to the Camino Ignaciano, shares with Aleteia his thoughts on pilgrimage and Ignatian spirituality.

Christian traditions have interpreted the biblical fall of Adam and Eve as depicting human beings as exiles, in an often inhospitable world, distant from God and from each other. Later biblical accounts and Christian commentaries highlight this exile as a constitutive attribute of human existence.

In reality, exile is constant throughout the Hebrew Bible. Abraham and his descendants go from one exile to another: Egypt, the desert, Babylon. But the pilgrimage also occupies an important place in most of these accounts: pilgrimages are, both metaphorically and spiritually, a means of undoing said exile, a means of “returning home”.

All the authors of the New Testament emphasize the inevitable transience of this world (Cf Jn 2, 17; 1 Cor 7, 31; or James 1, 11), encouraging believers to understand themselves as “pilgrims and strangers on earth” or “temporary residents” whose true homeland is in heaven (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). These texts helped to perceive the Christian life as a journey to that homeland – thus giving Christian pilgrimage a distinctive inner and outer dimension.

The Ignatian Way

The Ignatian Camino is a pilgrimage route that goes from Azpeitia, the birthplace of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to Manresa, following in the footsteps of the famous Basque saint. As this route grew in popularity, it eventually earned a place of its own among other more famous pilgrimage routes in Europe, such as the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena.

Chris Lowney, former Jesuit seminarian, is co-author of the Guide to the Camino Ignaciano, the official guide to the route (the other co-author being Fr. José Luis Iriberri, SJ). Lowney’s other books include the best-selling heroic leadershipwhich has been translated into 11 languages. Aleteia had the opportunity to interview Lowney about this unique pilgrimage route.

Most people, when they think of a Camino, only think of the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Compostela. However, Christianity is full of pilgrimage routes. In your opinion, what is the main and distinctive trace of the Ignatian Way?

The Ignatian path is unique in many ways. To begin with, he draws a life-changing hike undertaken by a saint, Ignatius of Loyola. Many other pilgrimages may visit a place where the remains of a saint are buried (such as the Camino de Santiago), but in the case of the Ignatian Camino, you are walking in the very footsteps of Ignatius, visit many of the same places he visited along the way, discover some of the very landscapes and shrines that moved him deeply.

Manresa Cave: On March 25, 1522, Ignatius of Loyola descended from Montserrat to Manresa. He settled and lived here for 11 months.

Here’s another thing: Many readers know the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatiusprobably the most widely used retirement guide in the Catholic world. Ignatius formed the rudiments Exercises during this very trek.We encourage pilgrims to make these Exercises as they walk, along the road where they took shape in the heart and mind of Ignatius.

Where does it start and where does it end? I ask because, for some, the Ignatian Way should end in Manresa. Others seem to claim that it should lead all the way to Jerusalem, passing through Barcelona.

That’s an excellent question. The first iteration of Path began in Loyola, where Ignatius was born and where he recovered from his life-changing battle injury. The Path ends in Montserrat and Manresa, the places where Ignatius had deep spiritual and mystical insights.

But let me complicate what I just told you, in answer to your question! An “extension” of the Camino has just been drawnso that pilgrims can now continue from Manresa to Barcelona, this is what Ignatius himself did. And, in fact, Barcelona is another city full of sites and landmarks from the life of Ignatius.

To Jerusalem? Well, not yet! But you’re right: Ignatius’ own journey of self-discovery continued from Barcelona to the Holy Land.

One of the most interesting places on the Ignatian Camino, in my opinion, is in Santa María del Mar, Barcelona, ​​which you just mentioned. We find the steps in which Ignacio used to sit to beg for money to pay for his studies. Is there a stop on the Camino that you prefer?

I don’t think I could choose one place, so I’ll name a few. Loyola, his hometown, because of the mountainous beauty of the Spanish Basque Country. Los Monegros would be another favourite, but a very strange choice, I admit! This region is the closest thing in Europe to a desert, and very, very sparsely populated. It’s almost intimidating, but strangely, every time I cross it, even in a car, I still feel close to Ignatius, imagining this little 16th century man struggling in this arid landscape. That says a lot about his perseverance, and I always wonder what was going on in his head in that area. Montserrat is a special place when the tour buses aren’t there! Early in the morning and late in the evening you can have it to yourself, as Ignatius must have felt: he laid his sword here during a night vigil.

Our Lady of Montserrat
Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey located on the mountain of Montserrat. It stands out, among other things, for the consecration of the image of the Virgin of Montserrat.

red feniks | Shutterstock

I’ve already cheated by naming three places, not the one you asked for, so I’ll stop, even though I could name one or two more!

Can you share a few words about Ignatian spirituality and how the pilgrimage contributes to it?

I mentioned the spiritual exercises, which are in some way the root of Ignatius’ distinctive spirituality. One could cite several of its elements, but I will cite only a few. A mantra of Ignatian spirituality is “to find God in all things”: it has a powerful sense, which it imparts to us, of the presence of God in all people and situations that we encounter.. And he constantly emphasizes a spirit of “discernment.” It’s no surprise that Pope Francis, who is also a Jesuit, talks a lot about discernment. To oversimplify this idea, I would say that Ignatius understands that the Spirit of God constantly speaks to us, guiding us in our important life choices, like who to marry and what job to do. We just need to learn to “listen” to God’s way of guiding us.which is not as easy as dialing a phone number and getting an answer from God.

The last point, since you mention the pilgrimage in your question: when he told the story of his life, Ignatius called himself “a pilgrim”. Clearly, as many other Christian writers have shared, Ignatius understands life as a pilgrimage: we travel through this world on the path of God. Or, better said, we walk towards God, but also with God by our side in Jesus.

One of the distinctive elements of Ignatian spirituality is the Composición de Lugar, the famous composition of the place, a kind of imaginative contemplation to help focus the mind during prayer. Would you say that pilgrimage helps contemplation? Walking on this path (and contemplating the impressive landscapes of northern Spain) has something to do with it?

For me personally, there are two important ways in which pilgrimage helps me to be open in prayer. A way I would describe, with a bit of humor, as boredom. But I don’t really think of it that way. I have never been bored on a pilgrimage hike. But I would say this: When you walk for five, six, or eight hours a day, with no phones or business appointments to distract you, your mind truly clears. You think about your past, you dream, you are transported beyond the things that usually distract and fill our days. So I always thought that on pilgrimage, God waits patiently while we clear all the debris from our heads and eventually, whether out of sheer boredom or grace, we end up thinking about some of these important considerations. that we haven’t thought about much or haven’t thought about in a long time.

Here’s a second way I’ve always found pilgrimage helpful: you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, and whether it’s in sports, college classes, or anything else in life, I think we often do some of our deepest learning when we are pushed out of our comfort zone. What do I mean by “comfort zone”? It could be anything, and it’s probably different for each of us. One of us is afraid of getting lost or of finding ourselves outside in the dark; another of us can’t stand the prospect of being alone with our thoughts all day; someone else runs out or has blisters and is a little broken inside.

pielgrzymka Camino do Santiago de Compostela
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