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Young pilgrims walk the Wicklow Way

A group of 14 companions walked nearly 60km of the Wicklow Way in 3 days, as part of the Jesuit young adult midsummer pilgrimage which took place from July 9-12. Gavin T. Murphy describes the experience. 

The green landscape and purple wildflowers provided a spectacular encounter with nature, while the journey was undertaken. The sun beamed down on our pilgrim faces as we carried our haversacks through mostly hilly terrain and hiked on the open shoulders of mountains.

We paced from Marlay Park to Knockree Youth Hostel on our first day and we recovered from our unexpected sunburn. Once we settled, Jesuit scholastic and organiser Niall Leahy SJ shared: “What was most pleasing to me was that, the group walked as a whole.” He continued, “I felt an underlying bond with the rest of the people in the group, we were mindful of each other.” Furthermore, “There was certainly a strong sense of God having accompanied us all and unifying us.”

Morning prayer in the form of gestures and words was led by Jesuit priest Gerry Clarke SJ after the first hour of walking. Here, we touched the ground to connect with Mother Nature and we placed hands over our hearts as we promised to be the best version of ourselves. We reflected in silence for 20 minutes to an hour where we pondered themes such as God’s gifts, leaving behind/ moving forward and relationships.

20-year-old Sean O’ Rourke, a former Gonzaga student who currently studies in Boston College spoke after the second day trek from Knockree to Roundwood Parish Hall. “It’s been a good way to recharge the batteries and to disconnect from the world, and the fellowship has been phenomenal.” The Magis Circles, a space for two groups to share after the walking day struck a chord with him: “The openness to being vulnerable has been really nice, something you don’t find too often in the world.” Sean noticed “the unification of Celtic and Ignatian spirituality and felt consoled by nature.” In the book Two Paths to God, Fintan Creaven SJ describes the Celtic Christians ‘like fish swimming in a sea which is God’ similar to the Jesuit spirituality of ‘Finding God in All Things.’

As our pilgrimage neared the end from Roundwood to Glendalough, I became aware of the many graces received. One realisation was that I am an instrument of God and that the gift of letting go through my life experiences enabled me to be this, which was a great boost. I learned concrete ways to seek wholeness in my relationships such as being real, gentle, patient and daring. Even my irritability along the route encouraged me to be more myself with others.

Mealtimes were most appreciated by the young adults during the pilgrimage. We gathered for tea shortly after putting down our haversacks and chatted away with worn-out bodies but with a deep sense of contentment. Bonding and banter continued as different groups cooked dinners of omelettes and spag bol, except for a well deserved Italian take away.

Four pilgrims also walked part of St. Kevin’s Way beyond Glendalough in the temperamental rain until finally meeting at Ballymermot Youth Service in Oakwood. Mass was celebrated in a comfortable living room which included intimate sharing and prayerful intentions. This isolated location was ideal for our last night together – we exchanged postcards filled with compliments, revealed our Secret Friends (an excuse to pamper each other) and did various games and talent sharing through songs, poetry and stories. Chocolate cigars were also smoked (without inhaling!).

Amy Hallett Cusack from Jesuit Centre Galway said on the day of departure, “I felt that the veil between heaven and earth was very thin, through nature and people.” The American who moved the group with her mermaid song also commented: “I wish I could take the whole journey in a bottle, but I think I can bring it in small ways into daily life through groups in Galway or out walking by the sea.” The new companions connected for a final reflection on the highlights of the trip where emotions were stirred and where hearts were set on fire!

The consensus was that the pilgrimage brought about a genuine encounter with God in very practical ways. From experiencing a connection with nature to sharing our humanity, pilgrims went forth with much strength and inspiration. Personally, I stopped feeling lonely upon thinking of others in the group and while in solidarity with many refugees who are in a state of continuous fleeing. Amy said, “I would highly recommend this pilgrimage to young adults even if you’re not so sure about your fitness levels, and this could be a great direction for the Jesuits to continue.”