I first posted about my planned 425-mile walk from my home to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, it was with the enthusiasm that I usually bring to new things.
Beginning five months ago, I drew up a route and preliminary plans, to start on May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker; I read some books on pilgrimage and St. André Bessette, who inspired the Oratory; then I let it all lie. The winter was too cold and icy to even think of such a long walk.
In the past several weeks the reality of my pilgrimage has been slapping me in the face—alone, on a path of my own devising, through Massachusetts, wild New Hampshire and Vermont, and the French-speaking eastern townships of Quebec. Without the preexisting infrastructure of hostels, restaurants, and cafés found all along the Camino de Santiago.
Did I mention alone? I will be alone.
No one else that I know of is planning to walk—or has walked—the Camino de Montreal. People ask if anyone is going with me, and I answer, “Are you volunteering?” So far, no one has said yes.
As my anxiety has mounted, I have realized that it’s time to get serious. So today, at the beginning of Holy Week, with Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem, I turned mine toward Canada.
I began drawing up a final spreadsheet of my itinerary, including each hoped-for resting place. I already have nailed down the five weekends, including stays at two monasteries. Each weekend will include a full day of rest. Now I have to find lodging Mondays thru Fridays. I am counting on friends and selected Catholic parishes to help me out. Failing that, it will be time to try Airbnb or Couchsurfing.
My first two attempts to make connections showed me something beautiful.
First attempt. For three months I had been planning to stay with an “old friend” at a convenient way station ten or eleven miles from my home. I thought his home would make a perfect stop on night one, and I expected a ready welcome. This morning I e-mailed him and after some hours I received a brief reply:
“Nice to hear from you and that you are continuing with your plans to walk to Montreal. We won't be able to host you so you'll need to go to option B. We both wish you all the best on your pilgrimage.”
No reason given. Just no. Nice.
Second attempt. Two hours later, I received a warm, detailed reply from a teacher at a school just a few miles further up the road from my “old friend.” The teacher said that the school was looking forward to welcoming me; that I was to have “deluxe” accommodations; and that, if I wished, I could address a small group of students and faculty on my pilgrimage(s)—to Montreal in 2015 as well as to Santiago de Compostela in 2012.
This was welcome news, and not just because of the nice bed. I have spoken with one group of students already about my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and I found it very rewarding. Just before my May 1 departure, I will be spending a day at a Catholic high school talking with several classes about the meaning of pilgrimage. So today’s invitation was a beautiful bit of encouragement for something I’ve been wishing to do more regularly: talking with young people about this crazy Catholic adventure known as pilgrimage.
This morning on waking, as I do most mornings, I reviewed the previous day. I realized this morning that when I am alone, as I was most of the day yesterday, I tend to “disappear.” That is, I remember less of my previous day when that day was spent in solitude. Other people bring me to a greater awareness of myself and help me define my place and mission in the world.
And now I see that on my pilgrimage to Montreal, though I may spend many hours alone, my contacts with others will play a major role in defining me and the meaning of my walk. I want to thank my “old friend” and my friend the school teacher for bringing this to my attention.