For a long time I have had the longing and burning desire to follow in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims over the centuries and make the pilgrimage of walking the Camino de Santiago. A number of my closest friends have followed the way of St. James on the scallop shell trail for the 500 miles across the Pyrenees, from the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port to the “end of the world” at Finisterre. After years of hoping, it seemed like 2020 would allow me the opportunity to finally make my pilgrim’s trek across Spain during the month of May.
By January, I began to make some of my plans a reality and got my flights booked as well as bookings for my first few nights of simple lodging along the Camino. I arranged my flights so that I could finish my pilgrimage by spending some time in Scotland and Ireland. I booked a couple of nights on the island of Iona, just off the shore of Scotland. St. Columba founded the first monastery on the Island of Iona in 563. It is often regarded as the center of Celtic Spirituality, for which I always had a great affinity. I also booked three nights at a hermitage near the ancient monastery of St. Kevin, located on the outskirts of Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland. I wanted to take a couple of quiet days after my Camino to process the experience as well as get some rest and prayer time before traveling south to Cork to spend a few enjoyable days catching up with family and friends.
As Robert Burns once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”. The world that we knew in January and February of 2020 quickly came to a screeching halt by March, as the world was overtaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countless lives were lost and so many suffered and continue to suffer. Most of our world remains under lockdown and restrictions. Essential workers, who sacrificed their safety and the health of their families, such as the doctors, nurses, first responders on the front lines as well transit workers, police, fire and grocery store workers have became the true heroes of these sad and tragic times.
We, Marist Brothers, have had our own heroes who have worked diligently to provide loving care and meet the needs of our many retired Brothers living in our retirement houses. We have only to watch any news update to realize how blessed we have been considering what this virus has done to so many in senior living housing. With the help and intercession of Mary, our Good Mother and the continued hard work of our community leaders, nurses, health care aides and staff, may our Brothers continue to be spared and protected.
Like most during these past few months, my travel schedule came to a complete stop and all work quickly shifted to working from home and learning the latest advances in technology, such as Zoom and Gotomeeting. As the weeks quickly passed, I canceled all the bookings for my upcoming Camino as well as work trips to El Paso, Chicago, Miami and Lawrence, MA. I was especially graced during these months to get some time away from the epicenter of the virus in NYC by being able to enjoy several prayerful and relaxing days at our Marist Brothers Center in Esopus. It was especially meaningful to be there for the days of the Easter Triduum and join our ten Brothers and Lay Marists that live on the property, a few local Brothers from Poughkeepsie as well as Henry and Ellen for some sacred and meaningful prayer services and some great meals.
As May grew closer, I knew that I had already blocked out the month to be away so I had very little scheduled on my work calendar. As I reflected on the reality of not being able to travel to France and Spain for the Camino, I decided to attempt a Plan B Camino in two stages that would allow me to stay safe but also respond to some of the yearnings of my heart for solitude, long walks with God and the opportunity to be a pilgrim. We, the Marist Brothers, have a log cabin retreat house and camp on Lake Ossipee in NH. I enquired and found out that the Log cabin and camp would be completely empty during the first two weeks of May. I booked the cabin and began to prepare for my time away by packing some journals and spiritual books I had planned to use on my Camino. My hope was that at some point in the fall, if travelling were safe, I would utilize my unused airline ticket and then travel to Spain to finish my Plan B Camino by doing the last section from Santiago to Finisterra. What follows in the pages ahead is my spiritual journal from my Plan B Camino days in New Hampshire. I hope that I will add a final chapter when I reach the “end of the world” in Finisterre. I pray that my sharing of these reflections from this experience may assist other pilgrims, who are walking their own spiritual journey.
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