It took an hour by bus from Manresa to Barcelona. We stayed in Denit Hotel near the Plaza Catalunya, where protests were taking place. We were there to trace St Ignatius presence there during his grammar studies and labour of love.
We were reviewing and remembering and sharing to conclude the retreat and camino.
We had visited various places where Ignatius gave help and received help and hospitality while in Barcelona. Nothing has remained after nearly 500 years. They could locate the sites, but other buildings have been built over them.
We also visited the world famous Catholic minor basilica called Sagrada Familia. It had been under construction since 1882 and is estimated to be completed in 2026- 100 years after Gaudi, the chief architects death. The tour kept me in awe throughout the hour and was worth every cent.
On the final day, we sat outside a cafe in lovely weather, ordered our drinks, and shared where we were and what God has been doing and saying during the retreat before closing in prayer.
After the camino officially ended, we walked around on Sunday afternoon. Over the two days I have witnessed three peaceful demonstrations: one by catalans protesting the jailing of their “independence” leaders; one that supported a unified Spain, and one near the cruise center with Lebanese protesting against mismanagement by their nation’s elected government.
You cannot but be impressed and moved by the life and work of St Francis Xavier. Here I was at Castle of Xavier, where he was born, and grew up. Its surreal. I once did a paper on Xavier’s missionary toils in Japan. Now Fr Jose gave us the saint’s birth to death sketch of his life. Brilliant student in Paris University, sportman, confident, respected, from a rich family. Gave up all to follow Christ in the mission fields. Served in Goa, India, Malacca, Indonesia, Japan, Macau. He died of sickness at age 46 while waiting to enter China. Estimated 30,000 baptisms in his one decade of preaching Christ. Stupendous. Just to get from Portugal to India took almost 2 years by ship!!
What motivated him? I asked. It was the experience of the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love. He had done the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, and had a real trust relationship with the Lord.
I saw the tiny chapel in the castle where he likely prayed in. An unsual figure of a smiling crucified Christ dominated the chapel. All around the walls were dark figures of death, of white bones and skeletons.
Why a dead Christ with a smile? The job of saving mankind is finished? Peace and joy knowing He pleased the Father? Laugh of victory over sin, death and Satan? A smile of love as He knows He will be with His Father soon? No one knows what was on the sculptor’s mind. Anyway, it must have fascinated and moved St Francis in his younger years, or at least stayed with him through his years of hardship and suffering.
I felt grateful too when I thought of God’s call on my life. I had experienced great encounters with God during the charismatic revival of 1970s. I believe it was experiencing this vast love of God that propelled me into obeying God’s call, with all its sacrifices and service. And it was being kept in this love of God that kept me serving in WRPF all these past 39 years of ups and downs. I feel grateful to God for this grace and privilege of serving this one church all this while.
Its vineyard country we have entered, following one of the journeys of St Ignatius.
We walked 15km on Saturday and about 14km today. The only difference to me was that the former was quieter and hardly anyone crossed paths with us, while today, many who were walking the Camino Santiago walked past us, including locals exercising on Sunday, a few every seven minutes.
The weather was windy, cool and sunny yesterday, but cloudier and less windy today. In both cases a short sleeve T shirt and long pants sufficed. The jackets we wore earlier in the morning had to be removed by 10am because the day grew warmer.
I felt that two blessings were being granted as I relished the long walks in cool weather and lovely scenery. It took my mind and heart off church responsibilities and burdens. This disengagement is such a blessing. Secondly, I also needed to simply rest, eat, exercise and be fully present with the physical world, its sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch. This grounds me in the now, instead of dwelling on the past or the future.
The camino led us through shop streets and apartments. People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.
We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.
I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.
It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful, family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.
The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.
When one of our pilgrims had to rush home because of a sudden loss it touched me with an unusual deep sadness. This is not normal. It has to be a grace and a burden from the Lord to uplift her in prayer in the coming days. This is reality and we were reminded that God can be found in all things, and the group spent time in poignant prayer for her and her family.
Yesterday, Fr Jose brought us around several historical sites and expounded on the life and work of St Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Unlike secular tours, it was done from a contemplative stance, from a man steeped with a camino spirit and a life of service as a Jesuit. He also created pockets of silence and prayer at various places and junctures. The two spiritual directors urged us to cultivate a portable inner silence and posture of listening through the day, alert to what awakens and moves us in our affections.
In the night we viewed the second part of a movie on the life of Ignatius.
Today on Friday the 11th of October, we do a full days walk.
The middle of a year is a good time to retreat and reflect. You can have a personal retreat in your bedroom, or in a public park or in a quiet place like a library. Some are able to do it in a café with the help of caffeine in the air.
If you have a journal, it’s a great help. Our memory fails us but a short note triggers fruitful paths of reflection. If you do not journal, just mentally look backwards from the most recent happenings to those at the the beginning of the year. Note down a list of blessings: events, people, experiences, learnings, and gifts you have received. List down all the ways God has used others to bless you, and used you to bless others. How has the joy, love and peace of God and other fruit of the Spirit been displayed in your life these few months? As you roll back the curtains and count the blessings, some painful moments will surface too and should be noted in the margins.
When the list is done have some secret time with your heavenly Father. Thank him from your heart for each of the blessings one by one. They reveal how real and active God has been in your life. Then tell him how you feel about those painful moments you have had, and wait in silence for his response. He may give you a word, an advice, an experience of assurance and comfort, or all you may have is silence and a strange peace and strength. Receive them in good faith.
With this done you will face the second half of the year free from unnecessary emotional baggage, and with a sense of assurance that the Lord will go ahead of you and be with you into the next half of the year.
It has been some years since I last went up to OMF Bungalow in Cameron Highlands. So I was glad to know that the last two rooms available in the bungalow were available for Koh Seng Chor, the pastor of Evangel Christian Church, and myself. My daughter wanted to tag along to have her prayer retreat so she had to share a room with me as there were no other rooms available. That would mean an inconvenience for prayer, but she’s my one and only daughter! It is always better to be able to pray, sleep and read anyway and anytime you want, and sharing a room with another restricts this to some extent. However, the Lord was kind, for as soon as we arrived we were told the good news that all three of us would have individual rooms to ourselves due to some cancellation.
Eat, sleep, pray, share
Most of the morning and night hours were spent alone in the room or outside, meditating and praying through Psalms 55, reading old journal entries, and writing new ones. On occasion Seng Chor and I would take relaxed afternoon walks in the cool Cameron air chatting all the way down to Chefu or Brinchang town, sharing our heart and telling grandfather stories, literally. My daughter, well, she wanted her God-space, so she was left alone except during meal times. Meal times were fun as we sat with and got to know some American missionary couples and Malaysian Chinese ladies who were also staying there.
Faded charm of the 60’s and 70’s
The food was warm and nourishing and the Cameron vegetables were fresh and deliciously cooked by Mrs Chye, the caretaker. The beverages and the superb cookies were free and available 24/7. The charm of the place is its tired and dated look – like going back to a warm and welcoming home in the 60’s and 70’s. This place was once owned by a Chinese businessman and built in 1933 before being bought over by China Inland Mission (now OMF), a missionary organization. While staying there you could fantasize that you were that tycoon, albeit only for a few days, enjoying the striking views outside your large garden and with your helpers cooking and cleaning your home, while you lounge around without a care in the world.
My daughter and I went for a tour of Mt Brinchang, the mossy forest, and the BOH tea plantation. We also visited Brinchang town and Tanah Rata, and there being no place in the “inn”, we stayed a night at Strawberry Park hotel and had breakfast before we departed for home in the 10am bus to Singapore. We arrived home close to 7 pm on Friday.