We left Montserrat and headed into Barcelona for the final two days of our pilgrimage. There has been a settlement on the site of Barcelona for several thousand years. It was the center of the region of Catalonia, and its rulers grew very strong as the Counts of Catalonia. Eventually through dynastic marriage it merged with the Kingdom of Aragon and then with the united monarchy of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, which became united Spain. It maintained its identity, however, and its Catalan language, not without determination and struggle. It is the sixth largest metropolitan area in Europe and the largest port on the Mediterranean.

Pilgrims at the altar of St. Ignatius which contains his sword. Antoni Gaudi was involved in the design of the niche containing the sword.

Pilgrims at the altar of St. Ignatius which contains his sword. Antoni Gaudi was involved in the design of the niche containing the sword.

In Manresa Ignatius had drawn the attention of a number of upperclass women who took care of this obviously holy man. Once he got to Barcelona, he received hospitality from Ines Pascual, who gave him accommodation in a small room in the garret of her home. Her son, Juan, later told how he had heard Ignatius at his nightly prayers whispering: “O my God, how infinitely good thou art, for thou bearest with a man who is so wicked and corrupt as I am.”

During this time Ignatius met Isabel Roser, who became a faithful friend and helped him on his return to Barcelona after Jerusalem. In fact she, with two others, some years later were in fact members of the Society of Jesus for about a year. From Barcelona he arranged his passage to Jerusalem; after Jerusalem he returned here and stayed about two years as a student.

From the “Autobiography” of St. Ignatius

In the beginning of the year 1523… he set out for Barcelona. Many [from Manresa] offered to accompany him, but he refused, as he wished to go alone. He expected to derive great advantage from placing his whole trust in God alone.… If he took a companion, when hungry he would look to his companion for food; if exhausted, he would call on his companion for help; and so he would confide in his companion, and have some affection for him: whereas he wished to place all this confidence, hope, and affection in God alone. These words were not a mere expression of the lips, but they were the true sentiments of his heart. For these reasons he wished to embark not only alone, but even without any provision for the voyage.

When he arranged about his passage, the captain agreed to take him free, as he had no money, but on condition that he should take with him as much sailors’ bread as would suffice for his sustenance. Were it not for this condition imposed by the captain, Ignatius would have refused to take with him any provision at all.

When he thought of procuring bread, he was much troubled with scruples. “Is this your hope and faith in God, who, you were sure, would not fail you?”  The force and violence of the temptation were such that he was greatly distressed. Good reasons on both sides presented themselves. Finally, in his perplexity, he determined to leave the matter to his confessor.… His confessor decided that he ought to beg what was necessary and take it with him.… When he had secured the bread, before going on board he took care to leave behind him, on a bench on the wharf, five or six Spanish coins, which had been given to him as alms.

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Reflection by pilgrim Bill Mitchell

Reflection by pilgrim Bill Mitchell

The lecture just concluded, Father Malone turned to one of his colleagues and asked: “What’s next? What now?”

It’s a scene that’s played out following one event or another nearly every day of this trip. For me, the questions reflect the key practical and spiritual dimensions of our pilgrimage and, for that matter, of the lives we’ll all be returning to in a couple of days.

I embarked on this journey with no real sense of what a pilgrimage might be like. In alerting family, friends and colleagues that I’d be away, I never once used the word pilgrimage to describe what I’d be up to. Maybe it sounded a little too pious.

I now find myself approaching the end of an experience that I’m far more comfortable describing as a pilgrimage in the footsteps of a holy — and not exactly pious — fellow searcher. I believe I can also claim a beginner’s sense of what the experience might mean to me going forward.

The Marcus Chapel which served as an entrance point into Barcelona in the time of Ignatius.

The Marcus Chapel which served as an entrance point into Barcelona in the time of Ignatius.

I’ve long appreciated the preaching skills of Jesuits, and this trip has underlined one of the core reasons why: They’re stunning storytellers. With help from David and our other guides, Fathers Malone, Lingan and Sundrup have accomplished the number one goal of any storyteller: Placing their listeners in the story. This is especially important to the Ignatian notion of imaginative personal involvement in gospel stories.

And let’s not overlook the contribution of our drivers, Manuel and José Maria, who actually delivered us to the main stops along Ignatius’ steep and twisty journey.

But perhaps the nicest surprise for me has been the ways that our daily faith sharing has deepened my own experience of the pilgrimage. Our fearless sharing of personal stories has left me inspired and encouraged about the road ahead. I’ll be climbing on that flight home with profound gratitude and affection for my fellow pilgrims.

I don’t have good answers yet for Matt’s two questions — at least not anything beyond the Wednesday schedule David, our guide, will surely post this evening. But I’m feeling much more peaceful about pursuing whatever paths they may open up in the days and years ahead.