The length my sabbatical is a total of 4 months, which is the standard of our sabbatical policy in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The Camino will last only about a month of that allotted time, which leaves some time for making pilgrimage elsewhere. It's been a great hope of mine to pray at some of the places that hold spiritual significance in my life and discernment of The Priesthood.
That said, here's a basic layout of the broad strokes of my itinerary, for which Fr. Ryan will be my traveling companion (or maybe I'm his, since he's a Axis and Allies level strategic planner). We're certainly planning on visiting some of the touchstones of his life's journey as well.
I'd be lying if I said that a significant portion of my priestly discernment had anything whatsoever to do with Iceland.
But, as it turns out, a hop to Iceland works out a little cheaper on the airfare and it fulfills a long-standing desire to see what the mysterious land with incomprehensibly long words is all about. (Incidentally, one of my favorite discovered thus far is "Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur" which loosely translated apparently means "key ring of the key chain of the outer door to the storage tool shed of the road workers on the Vaðlaheiði plateau".)
There are some interesting things sights to be sure, as Iceland is said to be one of the most beautiful places contained on an island that can more or less be navigated in one 12 hour round trip. While we're planning to stay relatively close to the Catholic cathedral of Christ the King in Reykjavik, I'm very much looking forward to the natural beauty where God certainly reveals Himself.
From Iceland, the flight overseas is about 5 hours to Ireland. This gave the opportunity to pause on the Emerald Isle before making our way to Spain. Originally, our plan was to stay at Silverstream Priory with the little community of Benedictines there. Nearly nine months ago, I contacted them to see if it would be possible to make a mini-retreat to get ourselves ready for the Camino journey. All was going according to plan until the end of June, when one of the brothers wrote me with a happy problem. It was happy because they're expanding their novitiate wing. It was a problem because their novices are presently housed in the guesthouse and the construction was behind schedule. I've chalked this up to what will likely be the first of many "adjustments" in the pilgrimage plan.
So, we're staying in a small hostel in Dublin itself, since I don't know any priests particularly well in Ireland. Hostels are kind of like no frills hotels, often trading out the comforts of plush interiors and wee soaps for bunk beds and a bathroom "down the hall". Although, over the years the hostel experience has begun to include private rooms and often a simple breakfast. The price is certainly much better than staying in a metropolitan city's hotel network, which may yield a television and a pastry for more than double the cost.
The Shrine of Our Lady at Knock is only 2.5 hours by train (and a brief cab ride) and we'll likely take a few day trips to the various churches and pilgrimage spots there to replicate the retreat experience a bit. From our few days in Dublin, we then make our way (a little earlier than we had originally planned) to Spain.
I'm a sucker for cities with street graffiti older than the age of The United States of America. Barcelona, according to legend, traces its foundation to the year 3 BC. In an ancient city, there's bound to be art and architecture, food and a culture that permeates the very air. Combining all of those things into one is the structure that sits in the center of the city, one of the great wonders of the world, Sagrada Familia Church.
First off, let me say I don't plan on running with any bulls. I have a very low B.S. quotient both in metaphor and reality. Also, I'm not really a good sport when there's a horn sticking out of my abdomen. So, while the picadors do their best to stay out of the cross-hairs of a bull's eye, I'll be visiting some of the churches and sampling the local brew.
It's from here that Fr. Ryan and I will begin our 29 stage journey on the Way of Saint James. We'll spend a day or so seeing the sights and then hoist our packs over to the first albergue. It's in this city that we'll get our first sello or seal stamped on our Credencial, the Pilgrim's Passport, officially designating us as pilgrims of the Camino.
The Camino Plan (in short):
The Camino de Santiago
The Camino is essentially the meat and potatoes (or Jamón Ibérico and Vino Tinto) of my Sabbatical experience. While it lasts a rough total of 35 days, a kind of mini-Lent as it turns out, it's the most significant component in that it involves embracing full well the life of a pilgrim: journeying on foot, relying upon the kindness of others, reflecting the welcome of Christ to my fellow pilgrims, and searching like The Holy Family for a place to rest each evening. At the outset of the journey, I'm very much looking forward to adopting a mode of life that I've never had the occasion to undertake. It comes up in Eucharistic Prayer III:
Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth...
and I'm looking forward to becoming, even for a brief time a very real part of that earthly pilgrimage. While the prayer is referring specifically to we, The Mystical Body of Christ, who constitute a family of believers traveling the Way to Salvation, to spend time physically adopting a route, a method, and a destination, really excites me as a priest and also as one of those pilgrims mentioned at every Mass. I would imagine that this excitement will vary from day to day and blister to blister, but I afford myself this paragraph to gaze with dewy eye at the theological significance of it all.
We will walk from village to village, of which there will be in-depth postings as I am able about the food, experiences on the journey, and the refugios in which we stay, until we finally arrive in Santiago de Compostela and, as is custom, embrace the relics of Saint James the Apostle, whose earthly remains are contained within the cathedral church.
This is what Fr. Ryan and I are calling "Phase II" of our shared Sabbatical. Assuming we haven't left one another sleeping in the back pew of Santiago Cathedral, we'll then embark on a pilgrim's curated visit of Europe.
We'll fly over to Rome and pick up our Phase II gear. After a quick overnight in the Eternal City (we'll return of course) we'll spend a week in Assisi resting from and mentally unpacking The Camino. We both agreed that in the place where St. Francis lived and ministered would be a great conclusion to a month long spiritual journey.
We'll go back to Rome and take in some of the churches and areas of interest that we've not been able to visit in our travels there. Rome is called "The Eternal City" because it was once referred to by Virgil in the Æneid as "imperium sine fine" the "empire without end." That moniker takes on new meaning as the Caesars declined and The Church took up the ministry of pontifex (which means bridge-builder, from which we get the word pontiff, which is a title of the pope) between Our Heavenly King and the world He created. There are many places to pray for that ministry of sharing the mandate to present the Sacred Mysteries wherein heaven is joined to earth at the altar.
After a few days in Rome (where I'll return in a few weeks to enjoy the hospitality and friendship of the Redemptorists) we'll make our way to one of the most fascinating parts of ancient Rome, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. I've never been to the ruins in Pompeii where much is preserved in the ash and petrified lava from the great eruption in 79AD.
From The Amalfi region including a quick trip to Capri, Fr. Ryan and I will take to the air and alight in Krakow, Poland to trace some of the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II. We'll also spend some time in prayer at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp turned sanctuary of memory, where man's inhumanity to man must be remembered lest it be repeated. I'm also looking forward to being in a country where the King is none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Continuing our pilgrimage, we take the train to the grand city of Prague in Czechia. While it's known as the "city of a hundred spies," we're looking forward to setting our eyes on the Gothic spires of another ancient Catholic city, complete with a pedestrian bridge lined with statues of the saints. There's also an astronomical clock that dates from 1410AD – which as of this writing happens to be closed for repairs! When it's not being restored to its medieval glory, it "It tracks Old Bohemian time, when the new day began with sunset; Babylonian time, which tracks the day from sunrise to sunset; Central European time, which is marked with a distinctive hand in the shape of the sun; and Star time, measured by the way the stars appear to move because of the Earth’s rotation. (New York Times, January 18, 2018)"
After syncing up our watches, we will make for Budapest and its mysteries that lay along the Danube. Among the castles, churches, and museums, there are memories of the long struggle of what was known as the double occupation of the Stalinist and fascist governments. Even though I don't speak a word of Hungarian, I'm looking forward to the culture of another of Europe's traditionally Catholic cities.
Speaking of culture, Vienna, Austria is well known to be one of the great cultural centers of Europe. We'll keep our ears open in the City of Music for the sounds of Brahms, Beethoven, Strauss Senior and Junior, Mozart, and Haydn to name a few. In addition to the beauty of the architecture and the art, I'm also looking forward to sampling the food! (Which, of course, I'll be doing in all these cities!)
Salzburg is an old town as well, from which Mozart and the Von Trapp Family hail. While I don't expect Fr. Ryan and myself to go on the Sound of Music singing tour, I do look forward to hearing the music playing in the squares and perhaps in one of the many churches.
We'll head from Austria to Bruges, Belgium, which is supposedly one of the jewels in the crown of Europe. In addition to the chocolate and the churches (not necessarily in that order) there are also memorials of the First World War and Brussels is only an hour or so away. I'd really like to go to the Musée Hergé, where there's an entire homage to Tintin, one of the comics I've followed since I was a kid.
Of course, Leuven could be a good jumping point to see Tintin, but in a college town like this, the real place to see is the Katholieke Universiteit van Leuven, which opened in 1425. It's been the center of learning and Flemish Catholicism for a very long time. From Leuven, we'll zip to France (and not just because I don't speak Flemish!)
I've never been to Paris before, so I felt that this spiritual journey wouldn''t be complete without a visit to the capital of the Eldest Daughter of The Church. We hope to be able to make a Holy Hour at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Cœur), pray in Notre-Dame de Paris, and then see the great rose window of Notre-Dame de Chartres. After a visit to Sainte-Chapelle, we'll make the voyage to Mont San Michel, which spends some of the year as a tidal island!
We'll return to Paris and then zoom under the English Channel on the Chunnel Train to London and visit the sites of Catholic London. This will hopefully include the holy places of St. Thomas Becket, St. John Fisher, and Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. No doubt there will be a day trip to Oxford. I've always been enamored of English culture, so I'm very excited to actually be able to watch the BBC (and maybe visit Auntie Beeb herself?) and have a proper cuppa. Scotland is a wee train ride up to the north, but certainly worth the visit. We'll be heading to the land of moors and smoke covered hills. Robert Louis Stevenson said that "Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be." Now I'll be able to compare them!
After The United Kingdom, Fr. Ryan's time is up and he's flying back to the USA. I'll head back to Rome for a few weeks to visit with the Redemptorist Community, who always graciously offer me a bed and a place at the community table. I'll have a little time to catch up on some reading and hopefully compile my artwork from the pilgrimage. I'll then begin the trek home, flying through Toronto where I've promised to visit some friends for a bit before hopping back into the United States and into the TriParishes in time for Advent.
That's the plan. Of course, one thing that travel as a pilgrim has taught me before is that the Holy Spirit is really the one who keeps the itinerary. I'm looking forward to the many hidden ways that The Lord wishes speaks along this extended "camino".