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Walk, talk, pray

A group of young people from around the world are this week (22-29 July) experiencing a powerful pilgrimage from Dublin to Glendalough and back. They’re being led by Brendan McManus SJ and Niall Leahy SJ, who organised the event after the Magis pilgrimage to Poland last summer in preparation for World Youth Day there. Like last year it involves young adults from different parts of the globe including China, Portugal, France, Spain, South America and Ireland.

The group first gathered at St. Raphaela’s, Kilmacud, Dublin, where the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart welcomed them. According to Niall Leahy SJ, “That was a chance just to meet everyone and relax together before the week’s hike along the Wicklow Way to Glendalough”. The landscape along the Way is spectacular so there’s an ecological dimension to the walk going through bogs, forests and natural terrain. It will also include opportunities for pilgrims to discuss how to live sustainably as individuals and as communities, and how to truly appreciate the mountainous landscape”.

As well as input and discussion, pilgrims will also be invited to look inwards in reflective mode. “A pilgrimage like this offers people both quality time with others and by themselves,” says Niall. “Walking and talking with the same people every day is a chance to hear how God has been working in each other’s lives, and by the end of the week pilgrims will have a clearer sense of how God is present and acting in their own lives.”

Already the group of pilgrims are bonding as a community, according to Brendan McManus. The author of Redemption Road: Grieving along the Camino is no stranger to challenging pilgrimages and the spiritual fruits they can bring. He is also keenly aware of the power of the weather and the terrain. “The first day was one of two halves,” he told IJN. “It started off cloudy and misty and then opened out into a beautiful day as we looked down on Bray and the coast. We stayed in Knockree hostel and it has got to be the Rolls Royce of hostels – stunning. Thank God we got here safely with everyone in good form and full of gratitude for the small things.”

Of course journeys like this are not without their challenges. On a physical level pilgrims have experienced the usual blisters, tiredness, nettle stings and minor injuries. But Brendan says there’s been no moaning or complaining and people have really got into the spirit of the pilgrimage by agreeing to switch off their mobiles during the day. “We sometimes have Mass along the way and at night there’s group prayer, singing, and reflection time. We pray the Examen prayer as a way of processing what’s going on internally for people as they make this journey. The sharing has been really deep”

For the most part the group has been blessed with sunny weather and only intermittent rain and some gusty winds. A high point, according to Brendan, was the Djouce Mountain and Lough Tay trail: “We were so high up it was like a sky road walk. It was such a beautiful vista looking down on the lake, and Powerscourt Waterfall is a sight to behold. That was one of the really powerful parts of the pilgrimage so far.”

As the group reached Glendalough, they rested their feet for the day and participated in another way. Brendan said: “We got a tour from Fr Michael Rogers on the meaning of the monastic city and the environment. Then we had a short reconciliation service to leave aside burdens. When we make our way back to Dublin, it will be chance to see familiar surroundings with new eyes”.

After the pilgrimage, the group will meet at St. Francis Xavier’s, Gardiner Street, Dublin, where the parish will welcome them with a BBQ. The returning pilgrims may help animate the Saturday evening mass hopefully having had what Thoreau describes as ‘a journey that has shaped them’. The week will finish with a time of music and Eucharistic adoration, and according to Niall Leahy, “With grateful hearts we will give thanks for the wonders that God will have done during the week”.