By Chris Lowney, Author of Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church
One student called it, “easily the best academic experience I’ve ever taken part in.” Another said that the experience “had a profound impact on me from a leadership perspective.”
This effusive praise came from Jesuit university students who were describing their experiences on the Ignatian Camino, a pilgrimage / trekking route that traces St. Ignatius Loyola’s famous journey through Spain in 1521, after his battle injury convalescence and conversion, from Loyola to Montserrat and Manresa.
The Ignatian Camino, sponsored by the Jesuits of Spain, was inaugurated in 2012, after project work by a team led by Rev. Josep Luis Iriberri, S.J. with Chris Lowney. Since then, its rapid progress has surpassed the most optimistic projections. The 422-hundred mile path is fully waymarked, has been subject of various guides and memoirs in at least four languages, and is now trekked annually by many hundreds of pilgrims, whether as individual trekkers or in groups (think of the Ignatian route as analogous to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, though minus the hoopla and trendiness!).
Numerous Jesuit institutions have already organized walking pilgrimages or courses along the Ignatian Camino, including Fordham University, the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, Regis University, Campion Jesuit Spirituality Center in Melbourne and others. These experiences have been rich and remarkably varied in nature: some have lasted a week, others as long as a month. There have been for-credit and co-curricular offerings, and immersion experiences sponsored by campus ministry, business schools or offices of mission and identity.
A walking trek is challenging, but the rewards are more than worth it. As one pilgrim put it: “No amount of information, data or reading can substitute for the sheer experience of following in Ignatius’s footsteps….I actually felt [like] I was walking with Ignatius, seeing the sights and views he saw along the same route.”
The importance of Ignatius’s trek cannot be overstated. The Spiritual Exercises, the cornerstone of Jesuit spirituality, were largely conceived by Ignatius at the end of his trek. As the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’s history-changing pilgrimage draws closer (2021), we invite Jesuit colleges and universities to expand their take-up of this uniquely powerful Ignatian resource.
Offerings on the route could take any number of formats: retreats; team building, mission and identity experiences; or for-credit courses in history or spirituality. Trips could be targeted to students, alumni, or faculty and staff.
An experienced group of “Ignatian Camino veterans” stand ready to coach any interested Jesuit university personnel through the logistics of mounting a trip. Those who wish to test the waters in advance of mounting a trip are invited to join an already-scheduled trek or participate in a “train the trainers” trek.
Rev. Josep Luis Iriberri, S.J., who has led more than fifteen pilgrimages along the route, is planning a visit to the United States in 2018 and would be happy to include your institution on his itinerary. Please write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch. Chris Lowney is also available as a resource. He has conducted MBA-level leadership course treks along the route. He can be reached at email@example.com. We welcome any reactions or questions and stand ready to support you on your own journey along the Camino!