This last post is certainly delayed (actually that's an understatement), but we still wanted to offer some conclusion to our experience on the camino. When we stopped walking, we spent a few days taking the train to visit some of the cities we were planning to pass through on the walking route. We first spent two days in Zaragoza where we saw an incredible cathedral....it was absolutely huge with a tower at each corner of the building and a beautiful, colorful tiled roof. Inside, it continued to feel enormormous with a long expanse on either side and partitioned areas throughout the middle; it was almost like a small village contained inside this building.
From Zaragoza, we moved on to Lerida, which was easy to navigate and is home to an old castle and cathedral that are set up on a hill in a fortress of sorts. On our second day in Lerida, we spent the morning going to Verdu, which we reached via a short train ride and then 3 kilometers or so by car. Verdu is the birthplace of St. Peter Claver, who was one of the original Jesuits and spent much of his life living and working in South America (we saw his home and place where he died in Cartagena, Colombia last year). In Verdu we saw Claver's birthplace and a church, and we were quickly ready to move on. Since there was very limited transportation back to the bigger town and the train station, we were lucky to catch a ride with a local farmer who was heading in that direction. Back in Lerida, we grabbed some lunch, picked up our things at the hotel, and returned to the train station to leave for our next destination.
At this point, we spent a couple of weeks deviating from the camino route because it took much less time to reach places via train than it would have on foot. Following visits to Seville, Madrid, and Lisbon (Portugal), we arrived in Barcelona on a Friday and reconnected with Greg's parents. It was during this week that we planned to visit the last two cities on the camino route: Montserrat and Manresa.
On Sunday, we took the train to Montserrat. When we got off the train, we boarded a cable car in order to reach the mountaintop where a beautiful Benedictine Abbey is located. We wound our way past a few shops and further up the hill where the main church is located. The primary attraction in Montserrat is a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, which is a beautiful Black Madonna and has special significance for the people who live in this region of Spain. Because there was an incredibly long line to reach the statue, we opted instead to view her from the inside of the church. The statue is located behind the altar in a raised area where people can file through individually and offer a prayer, but this area is also easily visible from the sanctuary and still gave us a great opportunity to experience this statue. Following mass, we had a lovely lunch of paella and planned the rest of the afternoon. In addition to the abbey itself, there are a number of hermitages in the surrounding mountains, many of which visitors can hike to. And, if you look carefully, there are crosses located on several of the mountain peaks. Ready for a walk, but also practicing some restraint, we decided to walk out to the nearest cross, which proved to be a location with incredible views of both the abbey and the surrounding valleys. Just a short distance up the mountain from this cross, we found one of the hermitages, so we took a look around and a number of pictures before heading back to the cable car to return to Barcelona.
On Monday, we were lucky to be able to meet Jose Louis, who is one of the Jesuits that is spearheading the effort to develop the Camino Ignaciano. He was an incredibly nice and insightful man, and we had a wonderful conversation about the camino experience. In fact, Jose Louis walked the entire camino this summer and had much to reflect on after his time on the road.
Finally, Tuesday, July 31, was Ignatius Day! So, we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to make our visit to Manresa. We took an easy train ride from Barcelona to Manresa and then navigated our way through Manresa in order to reach the Jesuit church. Once inside, we made our way toward the back, which is where the cave is located. When Ignatius arrived in Manresa, he wasn't originally planning to spend any significant time here, but he ended up staying for 10 months, and it was in this cave that he spent extensive time developing and articulating the Spiritual Exercises, which is a format of prayer that is widely used in Ignatian Spirituality to this day. Because this cave was such an important place for Ignatius and ultimately the formation of the Jesuit order, a church was built around it. Today, the cave is a small chapel of sorts with a well-decorated entrance and a few seats for individual prayer. We were also able to present our credentials from the camino (which we had gotten stamped in each town we stayed in while hiking) and receive certificates that acknowledge the walking that we did. Though we didn't complete the entire route walking, it's quite nice that anyone who walks 100 kilometers or more of the route can receive this certificate as a memento.
Though it's easier to explain the physical parts of this experience, our camino was also an incredibly faith-filled time. With the whole plan for the trip being rooted in faith, perhaps that seems obvious. We had good intentions of using the website's guide to the Spiritual Exercises, but we were not particularly consistent about starting our days with those readings and framework. In fact, for Ruth, the camino prayer was much more a wandering thought and reflection process. Looking back, it's hard to complain about that, as the notion of letting your thoughts wander and guide your prayer is quite Jesuit in itself.
Back in the States now and some months removed from our hiking experience, we are deeply appreciative for this time that we had to consider our lives and priorities and to build our marriage in a unique way. It's a tricky thing to come back and hope to put those camino reflections into practice, but if nothing else, we continue our conversations and are perhaps more conscientious about reflection in everyday life.
For those of you who have been waiting (or have been thinking that we completely forgot), pictures from the adventure will be posted tonight.
As we say among pilgrims, Buen Camino!