Saturday, June 19, 2010

Camino Day #3 (A look back)

After our first full day of hiking, the first night of post-hiking sleeping was amazing. Despite the fact that the evening was spent with 70 other strangers in cramped quarters, the fatigue more than made up for the conditions. Waking up in a hostel on the Camino is an interesting expeirence to say the least. First and foremost as if pre-programmed robots the entire hostel wakes up within five minutes of the first person to make a move. I am convinced that everyone is already half awake and waiting for the reason to make a dash for it. Once someone gets up everyone follows suits and furiouslly gets dressed, brushes their teeth and puts the dreaded boots on.

When hiking long distances you grow to love and hate your hiking boots. For me the boots were never as much the problems as the feet. One by one I would cram my swollen feet in the hiking boots only to begin walking with the words, ouch, ouch, ouch flowing from my lips. On day three of our trip I had developed my first blisters on my pinky toes. The problem was, every moment we walked, my blisters rubbed hard. Doing the only thing I could I took a lot of asprin and tried to forget about it, easier said than done.

On Day three of the Camino we made our way along a quiet road and eventually through hillside villages to our eventual Mountain top town of O'Cebreiro. During the first half of the day we hiked along a quiet road. It was quiet, but the pavement took a major toll on the feet. By 10am I was ready to call it quits. It was just then that a strange little dog began to journey with us. At first it was cute and fun to have company. But after several miles it began to get alarming that this dog was still following us, and thus leaving behind its home. For about 90 minutes or more the little dog, who we called Ralphie, was right beside us. He was a cute little fellow, excited and hyper. However, Ralphie did not understand that cars were a bad thing and gave us quite a few scares. Eventually he just ran off never to be seen again. I am not sure if he made it home, but I sure hope so.

After departing the highway we spent much of the afternoon winding up the side of a mountain. As the heat began to bear down and my weariness increase, it became increasingly difficult to continue on. At several points I wanted to strangle Alan and Jason my friends on the journey, not because they were annoying, but because I was convinced there was too much pep in their steps. I thought they were full of energy as I was dying. Only after we returned back to Boston did I realize I was dead wrong. Never-the-less in the mind of a tired, hungry and suffering person reality is not half as important as perception. At each stop along the trail I wanted to lay down and die. I am not sure what hitting the wall feels like, but I think on that day the wall hit me hard.

Eventually we made it to the top of the Mountain and crossed in the region of Spain known as Galicia. Galicia is a rural part of the Northwest corner of Spain. It is incredible fertile and very green because of the large amounts of sunshine and rain it recieves. It is often is compared to Ireland in its looks, heritage and music. I of course was doubly happy to be there. Arriving in the village we made it just in time to secure one of the last beds. We cleaned up, crashed for a bit and made our way for an amazing dinner.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Camino Day # 2 (a look back)

Our second day in Spain was an adventurous one. After having enjoyed a long nights rest we woke up early to begin the first real day of our hiking/pilgrimage adventure. After months of planning and preparation the time had finally come for us to begin the hiking portion of our trip. After packing our backpacks and stringing up our hiking boots we set out from the city of Ponferrada in the North of Spain. Ponferrada was a sizable city, so it took us a good hour before we were fully out of the city.

Shortly before the above picture was taken I was in charge of leading the group for while. In the process of our adventure I was amazed by all the people who were honking at us and by the incredibly warm welcome we were receiving at 6:30am. It was only after the fifth car stopped, rolled down its window, and pointed furiosly all the while mumbling in Spanish that I realized we were headed in the wrong direction.

As we left the city behind we passed a pilgrims statue and quickly found ourselves climbing along quiet roads. The roads were interspersed with buildings, houses and farms and high above us in the distance were snow capped mountains. I will not lie to you, when I first thought of Spain in May I thought of warmth, not snow capped mountains. Correspondingly I was beginning to get a little worried that my polar fleece jacket was not going to be enough to protect me from mountain top blizzards! Luckily for me the more we walked the farther away the mountains got.

Along the way the Camino is marked by yellow arrows.

The arrows appear every so often and point the way along the entire route. After awhile you take the arrows for granted, however they are a life saving guide for pilgrims. Throughout the entire pilgrimage I could not help but think that if this trail were in the United States that trouble makers would paint fake arrows to confuse people, luckily we were in Spain.

After leaving Ponferrada we spent much of our day climbing through rolling vineyards and the beautiful countryside.

By early afternoon the sun was beating down and I was beat. My feet were aching, my legs were tired and I just wanted to take a long nap under the tree. Luckily I did not and we dragged ourselves along to our first stop, a small country village, whose name escapes me. There we registered at a hostel which resembled a mountain lodge, and were welcomed with warm arms and hugs by the host family. For $5 we were giving a clean bed to sleep in, clean bathrooms and hot showers, something which is much appreciated after a long day. The only challenge for me was that the hot water pipe was solar heated and resulted in short supplies, and a lot of awkward and painful positioning under ice water interspersed with warmth. In the end I did not care as long as my feet could rest and that they did.

We arrived at the hostel, at the end of our first day hiking, at about four o'clock. After washing up we explored the town, had a simple dinner and called it an early night.

The hostel guard dog reflected how I felt by the end of the day.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Grades Just Came In:

Modern and Contemporary Catholicism: A

Spirituality and Practice: A

Foundations in Moral Theology: A-

Doctrine of God: B+

Synoptic Gospels: B+

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

El Camino- Day 1

On our first day of the Camino we were filled with great joy and excitement. With the help of a few good friends we were driven in to Boston for Iberia airlines flight to Madrid. After a few scary moments because of traffic jams, we finally arrived at Logan Airport just in time. After getting our stuff checked in and clearing security we were off to the gate to prepare to board the plane.

My two good friends who accompanied me on the journey, Jason and Alan, busied themselves getting food and drinks for the long flight, while I decided to play it conservative and not to bring much of anything. I would later regret this decision.
Once we boarded the plane it was off to Madrid. Iberia airlines deserves credit for good service, although my seat was torturous and should have been replaced twenty years ago.

After a long 7 hour flight, we arrived in Madrid just in time to negotiate our way through the subway to the bus station. After a few moments of confusion we eventually found our way on a 5 hour bus ride north to the city of Ponferrada where our true adventure would begin.

Once we arrived in Ponferrada, a city of about 20,000 people, we quickly began our search for a hotel for the night. After passing a castle, touring the old city we began to realize we were in trouble. What we would later discover was that there was a major Soccer game in the city and people from all over were visiting for the weekend. With little Spanish skills and no idea what to do we wandered the city trying to find something, to no avail. We even tried desperately to find shelter at a convent, but sadly were turned away. After about 90 minutes of wandering we were saved by Hotel Madrid and their friendly staff. We quickly rented a room. Dropped off our stuff, washed up and searched for a Saturday night Mass and a late dinner of Pizza and wine. We succeeded on each front and called it a night, as the first day of hiking would begin early the next day.

Unsure of what was to come, we were filled with excitement, nervousness and a lot of energy!

Truly Blessed Indeed

Last week I returned from Spain and have not taken a break since. Of course the only thing I have taken a break from is updating the blog. Do you ever fall so far behind on something that you put it off even more, which of course only makes it worse? I am not quite sure why we have that human response, but it is in full play for me. My apologies.

There is much to catch up on. I will briefly mention a few things and then begin posting on my experience in Spain, day by day.

This week I began my first ever parish assignment as a seminarian in NH. I have been assigned to Nashua for the summer and am working at St. Louis parish at 48 West Hollis Street. I am excited to be working in NH and to be close to so many wonderful people. The parish is in the heart of Nashua and promises to keep me super busy. This week I have been designing programs, visiting the sick, attending Masses, working with some amazing sisters, stumbling through my Spanish (the parish has a huge Latino community!), and making school visits. I am very lucky to be where I am.
Father Daniel, the pastor, has been very good to me and has been incredibly hospitable. Although, I have started the rumor that he does not feed me, and that he keeps me locked in the basement. So far it has gotten much sympathy and my second dinner invite from a parishioner. If I am not careful I may be locked in the basement before the summer is over.

In life I found that sometimes there are special moments we experience where it is as if all is right in the world. I often think of special moments and trips with my family where everyone is there and happy. I think of bbqs past when dear friends, who are no longer living, were present and sharing in joy. I experienced this feeling twice this week when I attend Trinity's Baccalaureate Mass and Graduation. Thanks to a generous invitation from Mr. Mailloux, Trinity's principal, I was able to serve the Mass and participate in graduation exercises with the current faculty. Words can never express how much this generous gift meant to me and how much of a boost it was to my spirit. Seeing the faces of my students past gave me incredible joy. Serving the Mass and setting the Altar I was moved to tears seeing their faces, and the faces of the families who I have come to know, sitting proudly in the Church. Watching the Class of 2010 process in and file out, I was reminded of the source of my vocation, all of my students!

This past year at the Seminary we spoke a lot of the challenges the Church faces and in particular the need to bring young people back. I am not sure what the answer is, but I do know I wish to give every ounce of my being to making it happen. When I looked out and saw the faces of the Class of 2010 and many students from other classes in attendance, I saw hope for the future of the world and the Church. I can't wait to see how it manifests itself.

As the evening went I fought back tears on many occasions, and most often lost. Some people will say that crying is for wimps, I think it is for real men. For me tears are words from the heart, which are voices cannot say. Crying is nothing more than the voice of the heart, and cry I did when my dear friends Bill Sheehan and Matt Carnevale made a special presentation on behalf of Trinity students, families and area priests. Just before the end of the Baccalaureate Mass I was presented with a check for the entire total of my remaining student loans. When I received it I almost passed out with shock. I am not sure if this will make sense or not but what moved me the most was not the money (although was AMAZING and incredibly GENEROUS!), but the love that accompanied it! The great love and support I have received from Trinity students, teachers, staff, administration and families is truly a miraculous. Every time I think of it I fill with abundant joy. Thank you to all of you who have supported me along the way. I am without question the luckiest man in the world to have such friends and such a caring and supportive community of faith.

This week I was given several amazing gifts for which I will be forever grateful for. First and foremost was an invitation from Trinity's principal, Denis Mailloux, to attend and participate in the Class of 2010's Baccalaureate Mass and Graduation exercises. It was a true honor and gift to be able to see off so many amazing graduates and to share in their special night. I could think of no place in the world I would have rather been than with the class. Especially meaningful to me was the chance to serve the Baccalaureate Mass as a seminarian. Preparing the Altar for Mass I fought back tears looking out at all the faces which mean so much to me, and to the future of the Church. It reminded me off a little project I have been thinking a lot about, more to follow in the future....

Just before the final blessing at the Mass there was a series of wonderful student speakers, including a brilliant speech which moved me beyond words.

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Please note this blog will begin being regularly updated after August 21st (when I arrive in Baltimore).