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 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!