June 23, 2010

I was at St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday afternoon – together with the participants of the summer course on Ecumenical and Interreligious Movements. I’ve been here so many times before and it’s good to be back – after 15 years. There were a lot of people – but it was difficult to distinguish the tourists from the pilgrims. Well, one can be both.

The most moving experience for me was going below the basilica and visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the other popes, especially John Paul II and John XXIII – my favorite popes. I said prayer before their tombs. Unfortunately, taking pictures of the tombs was prohibited.

I believe that what matters most is visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the popes after a long journey, and not just seeing the beautiful basilica and the works of art of Michaelangelo and Bernini.

In the middle ages, there were three major centers of pilgrimage – Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Pilgrims would often go on a long journey – usually on foot – to reach these places. Now, it is easier and faster to get to these places. And it is difficult to distinguish the tourists and the pilgrims. At least at the Santiago de Compostela only those who have journeyed on foot (at least 100 km) or by bicycle (at least 200 km) can get the pilgrim’s certificate. This is what I will be doing next month – journeying barefoot along the 800 km trail of the Camino Frances starting at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and ending at the cathedral where St. James is believed to be entombed.

In a pilgrimage, what matters is not just the destination but the journey. The journey is both inner/spiritual and physical/geographical. The long physical/geographical journey moves the pilgrim to an inner/spiritual journey. This means moving at a slow, relax pace. There is no need to rush.

June 20, 2010

At 7:43 this morning I took the train to Assisi. By 10:15 I was already at the Assisi train station which was still 3 km to the old town. Instead of taking the bus, I just walked up. It was quite cold when I reached the Basilica of St. Francis and was in time for the mass. After the mass, I prayed before the tomb of St. Francis. I prayed for his intercession -that I will be able to run/walk barefoot on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month – following his example.

After the mass, I walked around the town of Assisi – visiting the Basilica of St. Clare and the church/convent of San Damiano. Walking barefoot on the streets of Assisi was very pleasant, the pavement was smooth – except the rough road to San Damiano. I was very conscious of the fact that this was the same road that Francis and his followers walked on – barefoot.

I visited the room where St. Clare died and also her tomb. I prayed for a very special intention, remembering a special friend who is now in a Poor Clare monastery very far away and whom I have not seen for over 5 years.

It rained in the afternoon but I kept on walking around town. At 4 pm, I walked back to the train station to catch the last train back to Rome.

Being in Assisi brought back memories of the last time I was here – in 1994. Instead of taking the train from Rome to Assisi, I walked for six days carrying a backpack and tent, sleeping under the stars at night, and reaching Assisi on the Feast of St. Clare. I slept at the doorstep of the basilica of St. Clare that night and the following day took the train back to Rome. It was after that experience that I dreamed of walking on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela someday. This dream will become a reality next month.

June 15, 2010

I arrived here in Rome yesterday morning. After a couple of hours of rest, I went out for a 4-hour walk around the city and came back in time for the mass at the shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in the afternoon. I went to bed early, trying to shake the jet lag.

Very early this morning I ran for two hours along my favorite running route: the Colosseum, Terme de Caracalla, Circo Massimo, Capitoline hill, etc. I was filled with memories of the runs I did here during the four years that I was studying in Rome (1991-1995). This was also where I trained and ran the marathon in 1995. The same beautiful view – what is different is that I am 15-19 years older and I am doing it barefoot (which I thought would have been impossible then). There was one famous runner who ran barefoot in Rome before – during the Rome Olympics in 1960 – and this was Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner who won the marathon. So this morning, I felt that I was running in the footsteps of Abebe Bikila. Now I can feel the freedom and the joy of running barefoot. Running on the ancient cobblestones is not really difficult or painful. So this is what I will be doing everyday while I am in Rome for a month. This is my final training for my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month.

June 12, 2010

After spending four weeks as a hermit in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu, I finally descended the other day. My journey as a pilgrim is about to start. I will be leaving for the airport a few minutes from now. In a couple of hours I will be taking the flight to Rome, Italy.

It’s been 15 years since I left Rome after finishing my doctorate at the Gregorian University in 1995 . I will be returning as a pilgrim to the city which I love so much – bella Roma! I will also attend a summer workshop on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue.

From Rome, I fly to Madrid on July 10 and from there find my way to the French village of St. Jean Pied a Port at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains where I will begin my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage across Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I’m excited and also filled with anxiety, wondering if I can – like Francis of Assisi- do the pilgrimage barefoot. I brought my pair sandals, in case the temperature rises over 35*C and the road becomes scorching hot and I will have to use it until it is safe to walk barefoot again. But definitely no shoes. I am relying on Divine Providence to enable me to complete my journey safely. I am also bringing my ultralight tent so that I can sleep under the stars.

Rome and Santiago de Compostela – here I come! Buen Camino!

May 28, 2010

I’ve been living as a hermit for almost three weeks on top of this mountain overlooking the city of Cebu. I spend most of my time relaxing, reflecting about my life, praying, fasting, reading, editing my book project, playing the flute and violin, practicing Spanish, performing taichi, and finalizing my itinerary for the Camino de Santiago. Of course, I also run/walk barefoot 2-3 hours a day. There is a mini-forest nearby that I love to explore.

I am reading three books: To Care for the Earth (Sean McDonagh), God’s Fool: Life & Times of Francis of Assisi (Julien Green), and Wildmen, Warriors & Kings: Masculine Spirituality & the Bible (Patrick Arnold).

According to Arnold there are 2 archetypes that symbolize the male drive for freedom and can be the basis for masculine spirituality: the Wildman & the Pilgrim. The most ancient male paradigm is the Wildman which represents man’s primordial connections with nature. “He represents male earthiness, that grubby and gritty manly energy radically free.”

The Pilgrim acts out the “sacred ritual over many days and across numerous miles … recreating the essentials of his own hero journey. He has become the image in the psyche for all the leavings we must do in life, all the detaching and separation we must undergo in order to find our way again to new life, new challenges, and higher danger.”

According to Arnold, Jesus integrated in his life the Wildman & the Pigrim besides other other male archetypes. St. Francis of Assisi also exemplified the Wildman & the Pilgrim.

As I reflect on my own life I realize that I am a Wildman  and a Pilgrim at heart.

As a Wildman I have regularly set aside time to live as a part time hermit on top of this mountain for the last 30 years. I have climbed Mt. Apo (the highest mountain in the Philippines) seven times. I occasionally run/walk around Samal Island and sleep under the stars on the beach. When running/walking barefoot, I like the feel of the earth, rocks and grass which energize me. It is when I am close to nature that I can truly sense the Divine Presence.

I am also a Pilgrim at heart. I love to go on long journeys on foot or by bicycle. In 1994, I walked alone from Rome to Assisi for six days, sleeping under the stars at night. I biked for peace across the Philippines in 2000, around Israel in 2005, around Mindanao in 2006, and around the Philippines in 2008, covering over 5000 km in 56 days. A few months ago, I ran/ walked across the mountains of Mindanao, covering 390 km in 9 days. I can truly sense the Divine Presence in my long journeys.

The following months, I will once again live the life of the Pilgrim & Wildman. I am leaving for Rome two weeks from now, after a month I go to the shrine of Our Lady Lourdes in France and then do my running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, starting at the foothills o the Pyrenees mountains, across Northern Spain, and ending in Santiago de Compostela. Like St. Francis of Assisi, I would like to do it barefoot. I will also be sleeping under the stars most of the time. After the pilgrimage I will come back here on this mountain and live as a hermit for two months before going back to Davao and resume my life as a professor, and a warrior for peace, life & the environment.