For the last three days we have been on the road, averaging 20K a day - from Cevera to Montmaneu, on to La Panadella, and Igualada. The weather has been hot and sunny, the scenery rugged, our path taking us across agricultural land with beautiful wild flowers, down busy highways, through villages and towns. We've met some friendly people and I've realised of course this is Catalonia - not Spain - the style and atmosphere here is very new to me and the language sounds very different and unusual. At every stop our meals have been delicious.
Iguelada was the place where St Ignatius bought his pilgrim robe and staff. Once a busy textile town, there is some unusual old industrial architecture - chimneys that look like lookout towers from a Tolkien story, combined with modern sculptures and outside escalators - making the hills easier to climb. We went to evening Mass at the modern Church of the Holy Family, where we met Fr Francesco - the new young parish priest - recently arrived from studies in Rome. He gave us directions to an old pilgrim chapel with a statue of Our Lady of Montserrat - which has a mural depicting St Ignatius in his pilgrim garb.
The path from Iquelada took us through a modern industrial landscape for a time, then steadily uphill for several hours through terrain which changed from arid farmland where the harvest had already been brought in, over nearly dry riverbeds - through to some beautiful woods where the ground was covered with wild thyme, sage and marjoram. From a hill top we got our first glimpse of Montserrat - an extraordinary huge rocky outcrop on the horizon. The monastery here has been the destination for pilgrims for many centuries - and it was here that St Ignatius pledged to devote his life in service to God.
I'm now at the hostel by the monastery. (I got a lift to our hotel by the monastery earlier today as I've got very sore feet and needed to give them a rest.) Fr Dominic, Hossein and Bill should be arriving soon. This trip is wonderful but also quite strenuous - just a taste of what it must be like for the many thousands of Syrian refugees, among them elderly people, women and children who are currently on the move escaping from the war.
The purpose of our pilgrimage is to pray for them and to raise funds for Aid to the Church in Need projects in northern Iraq and Jesuit Refugee Services UK.
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