July 31, 2015 — Hiking enthusiasts and fans of Ignatian spirituality rejoice: it is possible to literally retrace St. Ignatius’ footsteps — as well as his spiritual journey — on the “Camino Ignaciano,” the Ignatian “way” or “road” in Spanish.
Those who desire to make the pilgrimage can walk or cycle their way across Spain, embarking on the same trip that Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, completed after his conversion in 1522.
The route is roughly 400 miles long and divided into 27 stages across the Basque Country and the provinces of Rioja, Navarra, Aragon and Catalonia. The countryside in this part of Spain is gorgeous and diverse — mountains, rivers and even a desert.
A typical village along the Camino Ignaciano route (Photo by America magazine)
Each stage can be walked in a day, and hostels and services along the way have been highlighted in five languages on the Camino’s website, caminoignaciano.org. The website is full of information, including an explanation of the journey's stages and a spiritual guide for personal meditation.
The journey begins at Ignatius’ family home in Loyola and ends in the town of Manresa, where Ignatius lived in a cave for 10 months, fasting and meditating. It was there that he began to put together the book that would become the Spiritual Exercises, a compilation of meditations, prayers and other contemplative practices.
Before this route was mapped, virtually no one had attempted to travel Ignatius’ entire trek across Spain, although some previous Ignatian pilgrimages would offer highlights by bus. The walking route can be wearying — certain parts are steep and one part includes a passage through Los Monegros, Europe’s most desert-like landscape. But the journey is worth the effort according to Terry Howard, an Irish Jesuit who completed the trip. “I developed a better sense of Ignatius. I actually felt I was walking with Ignatius, seeing the sights and views he saw along the same route he took, able to explain to him how things looked today, as if I were his eyes on a memory from his past, knowing he’d connect directly.”
Father Jaime Badiola, SJ, a Spanish Jesuit and a member of the development team, hopes that high school and university students will also find the trip worthwhile. “The Camino can be a fantastic opportunity for student groups — they will grow in solidarity while traveling with each other, confront their own resistance or weakness, be exposed in a fresh way to the life and spirituality of founder Ignatius, and, not least, have fun along the way!”
Students from Brophy College Preparatory in
Phoenix comprised the first high school group to officially walk the Camino. They
embarked on the route near Barcelona, Spain, walking from July 5 to 22, and
documented their journey on a travel blog.
A group of Brophy College Preparatory students completed the Camino Ignaciano hike this month.