A Pilgrimage to the Spain of Ignatius and Francis Xavier

By Gary Garcia, IBDP
At the Javier Castle, Navarre; photos courtesy of Zsa Zsa Yu

In celebration of Xavier School’s 60th anniversary, the XS60 Jubilee Committee organized a pilgrimage to Spain, the land of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier, and the birthplace of many of the school’s founding fathers. Over 20 pilgrims from the Xavier community, led by Fr. Ari Dy, SJ, travelled across the central and northern regions of Spain to pay homage to the lives of these Jesuit saints.

The pilgrimage began in Madrid, the capital of Spain, from where the Philippines was administered as a colony for over 300 years. The tours to the Royal Palace, the Prado Museum, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena were vivid reminders of our Spanish heritage that we now take for granted in our social customs, religious practices, and – not the least – our cuisine. From Madrid, the group made a side trip to the medieval cities of Toledo and Alcala de Henares, where Mass was celebrated in the cathedral.

On the way to Salamanca, the group stopped by the road for a panoramic view of the hometown of St. Teresa of Avila. Salamanca is where Ignatius spent some years studying (also in Alcala). Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the city boasts of an impressive cathedral – actually two built back-to-back – in the Gothic style, and an expansive Plaza Mayor in the heart of the old city. In the afternoon, the Xavier pilgrims visited the cemetery where Fr. Santos Mena, SJ is buried. Fr. Mena served Xavier School in various capacities and wrote “Luceat Lux,” a history of the school’s early years under its first director, Fr. Jean Desautels, SJ.

From there, the group went to Bilbao and visited the Jesuit University of Deusto, the largest private university in Spain. The campus is just across the river from the Guggenheim Museum, designed by the famed architect, Frank Gehry. While in Bilbao, a small contingent was able to visit Fr. Felipe Ortiz, SJ, former counselor and assistant principal of Xavier School, who was then confined in a hospital. This proved to be fortuitous as Fr. Ortiz passed away just over a month after, on May 11, 2016.

The tour then entered the Basque region, starting with Loyola, birthplace of St. Ignatius. After his death, Loyola became a popular place of veneration and the house where he was born was donated to the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus preserved the castle and the Xavier pilgrims celebrated Mass right in the room where he experienced his conversion. At the back of the Shrine and Basilica of Loyola is a Jesuit cemetery where Fr. Rafael Cortina, SJ is buried. He served both the school and Mary the Queen parish for decades.

Next on the itinerary was Pamplona, more famously known for the running of the bulls and as the city where Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises.” It was in the Battle of Pamplona where Ignatius suffered a leg injury that eventually ended his career as a soldier. A monument of bronze and stone marks the exact spot where he fell in battle.

The Xavier pilgrims then spent a night in Javier, at the Jesuit retreat house right beside the reconstructed Castle of Javier. The fortress dates back to the end of the 10th century when the first watchtower was built. Inside is a museum that features an art gallery and the life of St. Francis Xavier presented in a series of dioramas. Right beside is the basilica, built in the 19th century, and a few meters away is the parish church where the group celebrated Mass.

The last segment of the tour included a visit to Zaragoza where the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her title as Our Lady of the Pillar, is venerated. The basilica, which houses the original pillar on which she appeared, is reputed to be the first church dedicated to Mary in history. Many of the pilgrims brought home her image and the ribbons that are believed to protect the safety and health of the faithful.

Finally, Barcelona. In this colorful city of Gaudi, the centerpiece attraction was the truly breathtaking Basilica de Sagrada Familia. Although still incomplete since construction began in 1882, it has already been declared a World Heritage Site. A few hours drive from the city is Montserrat, on top which is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Monserrat (Black Madonna). It was at the foot of the statue where Ignatius laid down his sword.

On the way back to Barcelona, the group visited the small town of Manresa. It was here, in a small cave, where Ignatius spent a year in solitude. His reflections contributed to the formulation of his Spiritual Exercises. The group was privileged to be allowed to hold Mass in this sacred place. The pilgrims celebrated their last Mass in another famous church, the Sagrat Cor.  Built on the highest hill overlooking Barcelona, the basilica houses the sword of St. Ignatius.

The Xavier pilgrims left Spain on April 13 not only with photographs, souvenirs and memories, but with a stronger appreciation of the role of the Church and the Jesuits in the lives of Filipinos and – most particularly – of Xaverians.

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