Over a period of two weeks in the September school holidays, 15 staff from Xavier College in Melbourne, accompanied by Fr Michael Ryan SJ as Chaplain, retraced the steps in the life of St Ignatius Loyola. Pilgrims travelled from Paris through northern Spain, visiting significant sites in the life of Ignatius and the early Jesuits.
The places visited included: Loyola Castle (Ignatius’ birthplace and place of conversion), Arantzazu, Montserrat, La Cova de Sant Ignasi in Manresa (where he meditated) and Barcelona.
Pilgrims also visited the birthplace of St Francis Xavier SJ and St Peter Claver SJ and travelled to Rome, where they visited the Jesuit Curia and the Vatican. Pilgrims were given time to explore their own faith, to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Ignatian Spirituality and enjoy time for conversation, silence and personal reflection.
Here are a few reflections from some of the participants.
Peter Duckworth: ‘Apart from the most astounding beauty of Spain through which we travelled, I found that sitting quietly by the river Cardoner in Manresa was an opportunity to sit with Ignatius and long for that same divine enlightenment that he received. Perhaps this is the deeper purpose of any pilgrimage, which I sense never quite ends.’
Liz Allen: ‘I felt privileged to have been part of this pilgrimage and express my deep gratitude for the experience. Seeing the places I’ve read about, heard about and imagined for a long time, I feel truly blessed to have been able to experience it all alongside wonderful Xavier colleagues. There were emotional moments and ones of incredible power.
‘It was humbling to meet some dedicated servants of the church who are preserving the story and history of Ignatius and his life. This has deepened my understanding and appreciation of Ignatius and confirmed with me how important the heart of the Jesuit ethos, Ignatian Spirituality is … This pilgrimage has fed my spiritual soul.’
Jenny Canty: ‘The Jesuits we met gave us their full attention and were kind enough to share their knowledge with us. The places Ignatius walked, we were walking 500 years later; the friends we made became companions. A memorable and beautiful experience.’
Carmel Tinetti: ‘The pilgrimage was very moving. To walk in the steps of St Ignatius, to visit the places of his life, his conversion, his studies and his writings was humbling and emotional. An uplifting, challenging and reverent experience shared with a supportive, engaging group of likeminded St Ignatius devotees.’
Gerry Sullivan: ‘The leadership of Michael Jones [Head of Ignatian Formation] and Fr Michael Ryan paved the way for us to see, pray, discuss, think and reflect on the amazing life of St Ignatius Loyola. I will be forever grateful.’
Maree Girolami: ‘The Xavier staff pilgrimage was a marvellous experience for myself and companions to share. To visit places and be able to walk in St Ignatius’ footsteps was a privilege and it has deepened my connection to Jesuit education.
‘I returned to school full of positivity, energy and purpose. My deep gratitude is extended to the leaders, who made the pilgrimage substantial and rewarding for all who attended. Their desire to promote Ignatian formation was encouraging as I see it as a key component of a Xavier teacher’s practice.’
Anna Antoniadis: ‘The pilgrimage provided a wonderful opportunity for fostering collegial connections, the ability to explore and reflect on aspects of my faith and for personal growth … Overall, a wonderful experience and one highly recommended.’
Fr Michael Ryan SJ: ‘I was really proud of my companions in their committed approach to researching and delivering on their Ignatian topics. While themes were diverse, these inspiring accounts created a precious Ignatian overview for our pilgrimage.’
Michael Jones: ‘It was a great privilege to walk beside and with my colleagues on such a deep and personal spiritual journey. I thank them sincerely for giving so freely of themselves and placing their trust in me.’