Arrived on 4 October, a day ahead of the group with whom I shall be sharing the first week of the pilgrimage. Visited the sanctuary three times: once to explore on my own, once to attend the 8:30 am Mass in the Chapel of the Conversion, and once with the group, listening to the audio guide. After the Mass I asked the priest for a pilgrim’s blessing, one sentence of which sticks in my mind: “May God be with you every step of the way.” When I told him I am a priest in the Church of England, he asked me to bless him.
Loyola is in a beautiful valley, green among high hills, one of which provided the stone for building the sanctuary. The family house where Ignatius was born was originally a square stone tower with thick walla for defence in disputes between rival clans. The top part was demolished, and later rebuilt, in brick, by Ignatius’ grandfather. It is now part of the sanctuary building which surrounds it.
After the mass I visited the hermitage chapels of Our Lady of Olatz and the Magdalene, both of which played an important part in the life of Ignatius. In the former, he learned his devotion to Mary, and looked towards the chapel in prayer when his wounds prevented him from walking even that short distance. The latter was the Chapel of the leper hospital where he lived among the poor when he returned to Loyola in 1535.
The group consists of two leaders, Mike and Imanol (Basque version of Manuel), Mike’s wife Pat, two other couples and one other solo woman, a smaller group with a more even gender balance than most.