By Jean-Claude Ravet
To be a Christian is to experience a liberating encounter with Jesus—that is, a grace that enlightens and gives peace, reconciles and consoles, animates and strengthens, and pushes us forward and an encounter that profoundly alters our presence in the world, radically orienting our steps toward beauty and praise, justice and love, and solidarity with those who have lost a sense of meaning in their lives and those who are neglected by society.
At the heart of the Christian life, there is a grace that takes root in our very being, winding its way through our unique, circuitous, and rocky history, with its own wounds, sorrows, joys and hopes. Infinite life, the living God, comes to us who are vulnerable and poor, full of needs and desires, regrets and fears — a union of the eternal and the temporal, as poet and essayist Charles Péguy would say. A meeting of the immutable and the precarious, of heaven and earth.
Journey as the space for self-discovery
It was in in this baptismal spirit that I set off on pilgrimage from Taizé, in Burgundy, France, to Assisi, Italy. Ten weeks of walking, more than 1,500 km of narrow paths — sometimes stony or grassy, sometimes steep or winding — and wide roads, paved or cobblestoned. Through fields, forests, streams and mountains, hamlets and villages, most of the time under a blazing sun, except for four days of thunderstorms.
I carried a backpack of seven to eight kilos, wore a wide-brimmed hat on my head when the sun was beating down, held a walking stick in my hand — a branch I’d picked up along the way that had become my daily companion — and a bottle of water. I wore sandals to let my feet feel the ground, the air, the dew, and the freshness — easy enough to remove to walk barefoot in water or on the grass or soft earth — and I shouldn’t forget the precious notebook to capture the memories, thoughts, and words from the journey.
The daily trek would end at a guesthouse, a hostel, a parish dormitory, or sometimes the home of a family that hosted pilgrims who needed to shower and wash their sweaty clothes, catch their breath, regain strength, eat, and sleep, in order to set off again at dawn the next day, alone and in silence.
Pilgrimage is a door that opens onto the threshold of a sacred land, where, like Moses, we listen to the creative word.
Pilgrimage is a door that opens onto the threshold of a sacred land, where, like Moses, we listen to the creative word. Listening to the Gospel with our feet, ruminating on the Book of Nature, putting our senses to the test by experiencing the world and the angels that populate it, whispering to God, connecting the rhythm of our breath with our steps. A pilgrimage is a kind of detour, or even a wandering, that satisfies and soothes, encouraging us to continue along life’s path, with a loving presence in our heart, in our soul, reminding us of the moment when time becomes frozen in eternity.
Without hope, says the pilgrim-philosopher Heraclitus, we would not be able to reach the unhoped-for. Pilgrimage is an expression of hope: the gateway to the unexpected. Yet mine had a destination: Assisi, in Umbria. A term that expresses the end of the pilgrimage: to walk with the Poverello of Assisi in the footsteps of Jesus, poor and humble. The end is thus a path that never ends, except in the arms of our sister Death.
Darkness and light
First of all, naturally, there is the beauty of the world, dazzling, enveloping, drawing praise and abandonment in response, awakening joy and gratitude before this life so beautiful, so magnificent, which I was given to see and experience, which is given to us, so small and pathetic, so unworthy of so much greatness and yet very much a part of it.
Then there is the constant, intensifying — as if in retaliation, reproach, revolt — cry of the Earth and of women and men gasping for breath, humiliated, overwhelmed by misery, suffering, oppression: the pleading multitudes, to whose voices I add my own, my tenuous breath, to proclaim justice and goodness for all. It is a continuous dance between presence and absence, song and lament, light and darkness, beauty and suffering, faith and hope: the memory of the cross in the light of the resurrection.
First of all, naturally, there is the beauty of the world, dazzling, enveloping, drawing praise and abandonment in response.
Journey as a reflection of the soul
Pilgrimage is a metaphor for true existence, as a path. It evokes and simulates it in broad strokes, most often crude but sometimes sublime, to lead us along joyfully and confidently, and to make us aware of the dangers, the snares, the temptations, the evasions but also the grace — the divine and caring presence that comes to us when we are overcome by anguish or doubt. And so, I’ve attached a snail shell to my walking stick as a reminder — a reminder that on the journey of life, what is essential is minuscule, and is one with its being. The rest is superfluous.
In Ignatian spirituality, life itself is a form of pilgrimage — a journey toward deeper understanding and connection. It is not only about the physical aspect of the journey but also about the deep richness of the experience itself. It’s an invitation to live each day with intention, to discover the extraordinary in what might seem ordinary, and to recognize God in the moments that resonate with our core values and desires.
We all share this journey. Jesuits offer guidance and a sense of community, rooted in traditions that advocate for justice and that honour our unique paths.