Je monte á Montserrat!!!
Today, we all woke up really early in the morning, boarded our bus and headed out to the famous pilgrimage site of Montserrat… We had packed everything pretty much the night before because we would not be coming back to Barcelona, and instead head straight for Zaragoza after Montserrat by bus. The ride up that mountain was something very special!! We drove by mountain villages and cliffs overlooking the gorgeous valley early that Sunday morning… The sun was barely peeking through the clouds… As we drove up, we were all meditating in silent prayer, allowing the beauty of everything around us to just slowly soak in… Hehehehe
Once we got to Montserrat, it was still early so it was very nice and quiet. Montserrat is a very old Marian shrine, dating back to the late 8th century with the discovery of the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat by some shepherds… Very quickly, it became a pilgrimage site with thousands of medieval Christians making their way up that mountain to pray and ask Mary for her intercession to her Son. Soon afterward, Benedictine monks arrived at the site and built a monastery on top of the mountain where, because the land is barren and there’s not much room at all for a farm, the monks instead either worked to help care for the pilgrims who came to pray or did some intellectual works. They were very proud of the fact that very soon (a few years) after the printing press was invented, they already possessed one that helped them to do the rigorous copying of manuscripts and translation of books that were key to the preservation of our history and the spreading of our faith.
Soon after we arrived, we met one of the Benedictine monks who took us over to the monastery and gave us a quick instruction of some of the important points in history of the pilgrimage site, including its almost complete destruction at the hands of Napoleon. He told us of the role monks usually play, a story I’ve already heard from the monks back in Canada, where because they have a vow of stability, which is the vow that they make to spend their lives in the same place, they usually first go to isolated spaces and build. Then slowly, a village starts to build around them because people start coming in to help the monks and in return, are educated and spiritually nourished by the monastic community. This was apparently how many of the major cities came to pass, including London (with its Canterbury Monastery, now Cathedral) and a few other places througout Europe… It was so interesting to learn this.
After his teaching, we all went to mass (in the Catelan language… Montserrat after all remains the heart of the Catelan culture and faith) then ate our lunch just off to the side… Now, earlier during the day, I was really loving Montserrat… When I lived in the Philippines, I studied under the Jesuits whose founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, visited Montserrat shortly after his conversion. It is well known as the place where he, a soldier for his city, offered his sword up to God, gave up his fine clothes to a fellow pilgrim in exchange for the poor, humble garments of a traveller and ended up founding the Jesuits. I remember that story well because I grew up with it… And so being in the site where it all happened gave me chills… It made it so much more real and I felt almost like I could touch one of my favorite saints and see with my own eyes what he saw, hear what he heard… Later on during the day though, as more and more pilgrims started to arrive and the sun started to beat down more and more upon us, all the nice fuzzy feelings started to go away… Hehehee It must be tough for the monks here to keep their peaceful silence especially when they´re constantly surrounded by pilgrims… I can´t even begin to imagine what it would be like up at Westminster Abbey in Mission if we had this many people coming to visit us everyday! But I guess after centuries of pilgrims, the monks must be somewhat used to it… I´m sure it calms down somewhat during the evening… but we didn’t stay long enough to find out. After walking and praying a little bit on the Camino (Santiago de Compostella) which leads to the monastery, we left Montserrat for Zaragoza.
On the way, I had to give my teaching… the one that I found out I needed to give a week ago and spent the last few days slaving away to prepare for… It´s not so much that the topic was difficult (Jesus, true God and true man) but it was more that I needed to give it in French, a first for me. So part of the headache (which I really didn´t mind that much… hehehehehe) was found not just in making up the talk but in translating it into French too! But I was really glad to get it done and apparently, it went well… I don´t know… I was the one giving it.. c¨,)
We got to Zaragoza by the early evening and the first thing we did after getting our luggage settled into our fantastic hostels (with air-condition, laundry and the works) was go for dinner. We went to a nice little restaurant near the hostel. It was fantastic!!! We ate soooooo much because, like the Italians, the Spaniards serve two dishes at the beginning of the meal, followed by the dessert. We also drank sooooooo much because, as many of you may know, wine is almost as expensive as water way out here!!! It was one of the best meals I had thus far! J´ètais tellement content!! We finished off our day with the complines (night prayer) down by the river that runs through Zaragoza.
Today, after prayer in the morning (again, we´re pilgrims, not just tourists) we went to the castle Aljaferia… This is a beautiful middle-age castle located in the middle of the city that lived through much of the city’s history, from being a Christian nation, to its conquest by the Arab nations to its reconquest by the Christians… It’s architecture reflects much of the changes that occurred, as you can see with the few pictures I took… Unfortunately, while there was a guided tour for us then, I wasn’t able to pay that much attention to it… Bad student you see… Hehehehehe I just enjoyed taking my time walking around the beautiful castle.
Then during the afternoon, we had, for the most part, the rest of the day off… My team and I ate our lunch in a fantastic little restaurant just by the medieval castle before walking by the stadium where they hold some of their bullfights… We ended up making our way to the beautiful basilica cathedral of Santa Maria del Pilar, Our Lady of the Pillar (I have no pictures of the inside of this basilica because they asked us not to take pictures). At the time I got there, I had no idea of the history of the place… For me, it was just another beautiful basilica… Then I saw a small line forming off to the side and people venerating something (I couldn’t see what it was). Because I wasn’t able to venerate the image of our Lady over at Montserrat because of the huge crowds and the limited time we had, I thought maybe I could go over to this one. I asked one of the nearby pilgrims (another WYD pilgrim from the US) what it was they were venerating… She said there was a pillar over there that was kissed by Blessed John Paul II… Now my first thought, which I blurted out was Is that it? She looked at me really funny and said It’s a pillar that was kissed by Blessed John Paul II!!!! In my mind, I was thinking… Well, Pope John Paul kissed lots of stuff during his time, including the ground whenever he arrived at a country he was going to visit… We’re not venerating that are we… So I kinda walked away disappointed…
It wasn’t until later on during the day that I found out the significance of that basilica… It’s not just a pillar that Pope John Paul was venerating… On the pillar is a statue of Mary that according to legend, while St. James the apostle was preaching in Spain and getting discouraged by his lack of success, Mary appeared to him giving him a small wooden statue of herself… He then built a church for her on that site… a church which is today, Our Lady of the Pillar… Oops… apparently, the pillar isn’t all there is… I’ll definitely be going back there later today before leaving for our next site…
By the way… As you can see, I found a new thing while in Montserrat. I bought a little pilgrim staff, more for having a giant pole to mount my flag on but I’m using it right now, mainly as a pilgrim tick… It comes in handy for whacking some slow pilgrims out of the way… Hehehhehehe kidding!!! Anyway, we ended our day with mass at a small chapel within the basilica and had our dinner in the basement pub of our awesome (I’ve said it before but it’s worth mentioning how great this place is) hostel…
Just before leaving, I need to mention to you guys that I wasn’t able to get a data plan for my iPad… Apparently, you need to be a resident of Spain to get it so there may be gaps between my writings because I need to find WIFI spots to upload everything… Sorry! I really tried to get data but I’ll have to work with what I have…. Such is the life of a pilgrim… Sigh… Hehehehehehe God bless!!!