Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 9, 2004
Pilgrim finds his peace and love
Mustering up trust and faith gives untold freedom
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
One morning as I was walking on the Camino leading to the great Spanish pilgrimage centre of Santiago di Compostela, I came to a small wayside chapel. Years ago, when it was built, someone left a graffiti behind in the fresh white plaster in the front of the church. There one could read the words: "Paz y Amor" - Peace and Love.
That spontaneous writing struck something in me about the meaning of the pilgrimage I was doing in northern Spain. "Peace and love" I felt was an apt description of what this pilgrimage is all about.
Why go this trek?Walking 750 kms in a few weeks is a strange project. Why would anyone wish to undertake this? A pilgrimage is first of all the removal of oneself from the day to day routine and environment and the beginning of a bold new and markedly different activity. It requires leaving behind one's home, family and friends, breaking free of one's job and occupation and moving into unknown territory, trusting that somehow all will be well.
There is something freeing about setting out on a journey of this kind. One is normally tied to a job, having family responsibilities and in my case a host of responsibilities I carry in the priestly ministry. We are so well rooted in our home and community that to break free of these is a bold and awesome thing to do.
What is required is faith - faith in oneself and in others around us, and faith also in God. Without faith and trust one will never wander far afield. Faith opens a lot of doors. It especially opens the door to peace and to love.
Preparing to leave and closing down the projects and responsibilities that normally ties one down is a stretching exercise. Preparing for the trip, what you need to bring along, all that is very stressful. But once you get on the plane and you're in the air a sense of peace takes over. Finally I was gone and could focus on what's ahead.
So I was able to say goodbye to family and friends, goodbye to the job and I could begin to relax and experience peace at last. It was as if I was floating in mid-air, unattached and free, very much relaxed, enjoying my first real break in eight years.
Later, we started the walk, which meant many long weeks away from the desk, the humdrum of the job, the meetings and workshops, the talks and homilies to prepare. All of this was now behind me for a couple of months or more.
And once the travelling was finished and we started to walk, I felt at peace.
Peace comes dropping slowThe task became mostly a physical one: walking many hours a day carrying a packsack containing a light Mass kit, some clothing, including rain gear that turned out very useful for four days, a few books, my camera and films and my daily journal.
Life became rather simple and peace began to settle in my soul.
So did love. Love of the beautiful country Spain turned out to be, love of the new-found freedom, love of the many new friends I discovered from all over the world that I was able to engage in English, French, Italian, using even the German I once studied, as well as some Spanish I've started to learn. And I always found a warm, loving response from the people I met.
Meeting new brothers and sisters and entering into new caring relationships with people, young and old turned out to be a fountain of blessings. Even though I will never see most of the people I've met again, just recalling their faces, their smile, a few anecdotes, however brief as I crossed their paths, continues to be a blessing for me.
A glass of wine and theeAs I look at the many pictures I took and reminisce the many small incidents that enriched my life by conversing with people, sharing the odd glass of wine, meeting across the dining table one day, all of these small but profound contacts are all expressions of the gift of love Jesus lived and died for.
Creating the human family based on respect and care for each other becomes a way of life that can never die but rather continues to regenerate itself. And like the Master we can say: "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full."
The graffiti artist who left his mark in the stucco of a wayside church in Spain's countryside a few hundred years ago had it right: Peace and love are the ingredients the human family needs in order to go on. This is also the essential message of a special Pilgrim who walked our land and brought for all nations a message of peace and love.
Being a pilgrim on that Spanish country road can help a person, I know, to grow in Paz y Amor!
Accepting to be a pilgrim in this world will also mark you as a person that has and can share peace and love with countless other brothers and sisters one meets every day.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.