Irish pilgrimages to the parts of Spain associated with St. Ignatius Loyola are comparatively rare, so there was a pioneering spirit when eighteen pilgrims from the Irish Province’s Education Sector departed from Dublin for Bilbao on 13th March. Four teachers were from Colaiste Iognaid, Galway, with an equal number from Crescent College Comprehensive, Limerick. There were five representatives of Clongowes Wood College and three from Gonzaga College. Brian Flannery, the Province’s Education Delegate, and Frank Clarke, Jesuit Ethos Director at Clongowes, were the organisers. Fergus O’Donoghue, S.J. was a guide and translator.
The first stage of the pilgrimage was at Loyola, where Mass was celebrated in the Chapel of the Conversion. Most of the pilgrims hiked to the Franciscan shrine at Arantzazu, where Ignatius made a private vow of chastity. A visit to Pamplona, where Ignatius received the wound that led to his conversion, was followed by a Mass at Javier, near the image of the smiling Christ, which was central to the devotion of St. Francis Xavier’s family.
The three days at Manresa gave time for Mass in the Cave, where Ignatius began to write the Spiritual Exercises and a visit to the old town (where the street plan is much as it was in 1522-23). The pilgrims went to Montserrat on a misty morning, attended the conventual Mass and noted the large percentage of young monks. The final day included a visit to the Barrio Gótico of Barcelona, centring on the splendid Church of Santa Maria del Mar, where Ignatius begged for alms during his time as a mature student.
The journey home on 20th March, through Heathrow Airport, was the only tense and uncomfortable part of the week. All the pilgrims were happy with the experience and hope that others will follow in their footsteps.