Friday, June 22, 2018

15 years after my Camino: my walking stick

flowers I pressed and taped to my journal

doodling in my journal, Camino shell and cross

I did not bring a walking stick with me for our pilgrimage. I knew it’d be an important item to have, but I sensed that I would find one to buy somewhere on the Camino.

I was half right. I found a stick, on the side of the trail as we descended el Monte del Perdón, the Mountain of Forgiveness, right outside Pamplona. It was the first day of our pilgrimage on el Camino de Santiago.

I spent the rest of the pilgrimage learning how to use it.  

There was something cleansing, cathartic even, about getting to work on it with a knife at the end of the day.  Every night, little by little, I took a little bit more excess off the stick, shaving its bark and smoothing its surface.

At one point on the walk, a stranger looked at my crooked stick and laughed, then he tried to sell me his own staff, telling me in Spanish that mine was too brusco, meaning, too rough. 

I met a man named Jesus at one of the albergues. His last name was Ruiz, and we joked about the two of us being distant relatives.  When he saw me working on it, he pulled out his knife and used his stronger blade to smoothen my stick, gently evening out the rough "knots" in the wood so that it wouldn't hurt my hand as I held on to it throughout the day.

One night, I took a red pen and drew the Camino de Santiago cross on it.  This was my Camino walking stick (and yes, I brought it home as checked luggage!):

Friday, June 8, 2018

If you're wondering what my next book is about...

Today is the perfect day -- on this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus -- to announce the topic of my next book -- a biography of Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister from Uganda.

The book will be part of the wonderful series from Liturgical Press, "People of God" -- click here to see their other titles. 

Please pray for me as I run towards the finish line to complete writing the manuscript about this inspiring woman? -- and look for my article about her in the upcoming August issue of St. Anthony Messenger!

For now, here's a taste... introducing Sister Rosemary, from my writings:

Rosemary Nyirumbe, the youngest girl of eight children, was born and raised in a small village of huts with grass roofs within Paidha, West Nile, located so close to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that children cross the border to attend school in the neighboring country. It is 122 miles and over three hours on dirt roads from Gulu, where Sister Rosemary now lives. 

She laughs often, and heartily, as she explains how most members of her tribe, the Alur, are like her—short and robust. While their neighbors in Gulu, the Acholi, are lean and tall. 

Yet the same woman who jokes about her 5’ stature has also shaken hands with foreign presidents, kings, and NBA stars. Rome Reports described her last year as, “the Mother Teresa of Africa.”  

She is one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2014). She is subject of the book “Sewing Hope,” and a documentary by the same name, narrated by Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker (2013). She received the United Nations Impact Award and has been named a CNN Hero. She even had a song written in her honor, “Touched by a Rose,” by JAIA. 

But for “baby sister,” as her brothers, sisters and family still call her, speaking engagements and awards are simply platforms to tell her story. “I have the great opportunity to speak on behalf of people who cannot speak for themselves.” 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

15 years after my Camino: when suffering is prayer

The funny thing about making a pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago, the kind that incites an awakening of something new in your heart, is that you continue to learn from its lessons for the rest of your life--or so I assume since I'm still learning 15 years later!

As our long first day came to an end, I noted in my journal:
"I only remember being this sore after childbirth. Today we climbed El Perdón, where wind turbines lined the horizon at the top of the mountain. We walked paths and rocks and uphill and downhill. We passed fields of green and yellow wheat. We stopped to smell the dill and to watch a family harvesting a field of white asparagus... We walked in the heat of the day, longer than we said we would do on our first day."
Some people, like my husband Michael, can walk the entire 500 miles of the Camino and never get a significant blister. But I noted in my journal two things: I already had “big blisters,” and it was our “first internet access!” I didn't know it then, but I struggled with sores covering my toes or feet for basically the entire month of June.

In Estella, a 1,000-year-old town early on in our walk, I wrote:
“The albergue has 38 beds and a beautiful mural of St. Michael painted on the wall of the back patio. Our hospitalero is a guy with strict rules, big tattoos, and bad skin. 
With every painful step today, I offered my walk, my pain and my tears for the people I know who hurt even to stand everyday—Shirley, Lonnie, JoAnn’s friend who lost a leg in the [Oklahoma City] bombing, all who hurt every day. God bless them. When we arrived here we saw a man with a fake leg on a bike! God be with him.”

a butterfly wing that I found and taped to my journal, 
and a rough sketch of a church steeple that I doodled during a break in our walk

a traffic sign that I didn't recognize, 
and copied to my journal after I learned that it means: "unclear or undefined danger"! 

I’m convinced that no matter how much one prepares and trains in order to “successfully” walk this historic pilgrimage, the Camino will still be what it needs to be for every peregrino. It’s a personal, intimate experience.

And as is true of life, we can’t predict what the pilgrimage will demand from us. For me that meant blisters upon blisters. Never would I have dreamt that this experience would come back to help me and guide me years later as I began to face the beginning of my physical struggles with chronic pain.

Monday, June 4, 2018

15 years after my Camino: because God always opens a door...

As I mentioned last time, Pat and I began our Camino pilgrimage -- FIFTEEN YEARS AGO -- by spending the first several days of our Spanish adventure in the well-preserved medieval city of Ávila, home of our beloved Santa Teresa

For lodging, we had arranged to stay at the Convento Santa María de Jesús, located on a hill right outside the famous walled city.

Not actually running a hotel for tourists, the Franciscan nuns (las Clarisas) at the convent agreed to let us stay in the Convent's guest rooms after I explained that Pat and I were pilgrims, headed to Pamplona, where we would begin walking el Camino de Santiago.

I will never forget our arrival in Ávila. After the taxi dropped us at what appeared to be the main entrance to the convent, Pat and I could not figure out how to get into the building!

First timidly, then forcefully, we knocked on the wooden door and waited. Several times.

No answer.

Hungover from jetlag, I searched the massive door with black iron nails for something obvious that could announce our presence. A doorbell, a bell, a knocker.  There was nothing but the handle that we kept trying to twist open, without success.

We set our backpacks down against the wall with a beautiful carved image of St. Francis and St. Clare.  And Pat and I took turns knocking on the door and walking up and down the front of the building looking into the windows.

Nothing. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get in!

I decided to walk the entire street block looking for a different entrance to the building.  When that didn’t work, I walked down the hill to a paint store that had its door open, and I asked the clerk behind the counter if he could tell me how to get into the convent.

The man looked puzzled by my question, then generously offered me the store’s phone to call the convent.

The door isn’t locked,” said the confused nun who answered the phone. “It’s not locked,” she repeated, “Just open the door.

So once again, I walked back to the intimidating door. Stood in front of it for a moment. And this time, instead of knocking or reaching for the handle--I gave it a slight push.

The door was heavy, but it was, indeed, unlocked!

All we had to do was move forward to go through the open door.

As in the Camino, so in life…

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

15 years after my Camino: walking together

Every June becomes for me a special time to remember and ponder my pilgrimage journey across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

This year is no different, except for the number... I find it hard to believe, but it’s our 15 year anniversary! 

But let me start at the end, in Santiago, and make my way back to the beginning. 

When Pat and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I remember standing in the plaza in front of the cathedral in awe at ourselves, feeling more than a little disbelief that we had made it. 

For weeks that felt like years, Pat and I walked the Camino de Santiago… stepping beyond the blisters, the pain, the exhaustion, the heat, the blisters, the swollen knees, and did I mention blisters—and we did it together.

I don’t want to take away from the many friends – and even my husband – who have walked part or all of the Camino by themselves. But I do believe that, just as it is true in life, there’s a level of surrender to the Camino that can only be experienced when you commit yourself to walking it with another person. 

Perhaps that's why Jesus sent out his disciples two by two...

When you are walking with someone day in and day out for weeks, it doesn’t matter how close you are or how much you like each other. Ultimately, sharing the Camino with another is always both a beautiful encounter, and a downright grueling challenge!

When she hurt, I hurt. When she needed a break, I took a break. When I felt discouraged and pissy, she felt discouraged and pissyWhen walking with blisters made me cryshe cried with me. When the heat overwhelmed her, we both stopped walking.

Looking back at that month of June and what we accomplished together FIFTEEN years ago, it was no coincidence that Pat and I would arrive in Santiago and kneel at the altar together on the beautiful feast of Corpus Christi.

Like the oneness we experienced as we held up and encouraged each other day by day, every time Pat and I received the Eucharist together—something we were blessed to do almost every day of our Camino pilgrimage — we also became one in and with Him who was, is, and always will be our strength and our Lord.

In a very real way, the Eucharist was our food for the journey—and what held us together.  

Like the Camino itself, the Sunday that Pat and I walked into the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral together was one of the most Eucharistic experiences of my life, one that has become even more significant now that Pat completed her earthly pilgrimage and is waiting for me at the Heavenly Banquet.

Pat's tombstone, with the final Camino shell pointing down