Ignatius would have crossed the Monegros Desert at the end of winter when the north winds were extremely harsh. Because of our short timeframe for our journey, we planned to pass over the next two stages that it would have taken Ignatius to cross the complete expanse of arid desert. We now greatly appreciate the pilgrim spirit and strength that Ignatius mustered to make it to Lleida in the region of Catalonia.
Once in Catalonia, the Ignatian Camino markers change to tiles depicting a bright orange sun. We begin the day in the village plaza of Castellnou de Seana where a grove of magnolia trees have tree trunks decorated with colorful crocheted designs for the Festival of St. John. Catalonian flags are flown proudly here, and Catalan is the language spoken. Our Spanish is tolerated, and our use of French sometimes gets a better response. We travel many miles through olive groves and cava grape vineyards. A dark cloud opens up with a sprinkle of refreshing rain, but only for a few minutes. Drip irrigation systems water the vines here as we are far from the river now, and there is precious little rain.
We end our day in Verdú, the birthplace of St. Pere Claver, S.J. (1580-1654). His home is now a church and hostel for pilgrims traveling the camino. It is told that St. Alfons Rodriguez, S.J., the doorkeeper at the Mont-Sío Jesuit school in Mallorca, mentored his ministry and encouraged his mission to Columbia where he tried to provide compassionate care and medical assistance to the black slaves kidnapped from Angola and Congo, and brought to Cartagena to be sold as slaves. Nearly thirty percent of the black slaves did not survive the ocean passage because of the inhumane conditions. Pere Claver witnessed the abuse of those who survived the voyage and tried to find ways to ease their suffering.
We talked along the way, as we neared Verdú, of how we might reframe the legacy of Pere Claver within the context of systemic racial oppression and our more informed understanding that Jesuit communities enslaved persons of color both in Spain and in the United States. When we arrived in Verdú, these are the words used to describe Pere Claver in his native village, “Pere Claver was not an intellectually brilliant young man, but as a sensible Catalan, with a realistic view of the situation, he felt compelled to collaborate in the transformation of the evil of slavery more in acts than in words. He was not a great communicator, rather, he was a man of short words, prodigal of compassion.” From this tiny hilltop village, this native son journeyed forth, and inspires us today to find ways, both words and actions, to work for racial justice in the world.