In the footsteps of a pilgrim

This year, CSO staff, principals and teachers from around our diocese stepped out in faith in the footsteps of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop and walked the ‘Aussie Camino’ from Portland to Penola.

I was very privileged to join thousands of fellow Aussie pilgrims on this extraordinary experience that connected us in ways we could never imagine. We were bound for 7 days on an adventure that opened our eyes to all the natural wonders of the world.

This is a very new venture, not only for our diocese but also nationally. Our initial group marked the 245th pilgrim since the inaugural pilgrimage with a wide range of fellow Aussie pilgrims.

Mary MacKillop is significant because of her links to education and the many Josephite schools in our diocese. Significantly, she also inspires us to great acts of selfless service to the marginalised and most remote.

She was a woman of integrity and courage who was prepared to stick to her principles in the face of great opposition. She was also a woman of great heart and forgiveness, and love of her Church in spite of its arrogance.

Mary was a pioneer and we became, briefly, pioneer pilgrims, traversing the frontiers of our endurance and spirit.

Pilgrimage is designed to take people out of their comfort zones and into liminality: the place where heaven meets earth, the place where Jesus waits. It strips you, at each stage, of yet another piece of unnecessary baggage, until, lighter, we walk more gently through life.

The experience can ravage, soothe, surprise and challenge. None of us went unchallenged. It was in our stride that we rose to new challenges each day, in hope and self-belief.

Our fellowship ranged from atheist to Monsignor and humanitarian to profound Catholic.

We had 15 pilgrims participating in this opportunity across two pilgrimage dates. 

Living the Paschal Mystery as we travelled through pain, fatigue, exhaustion, a myriad of small deaths to the luxuries of blister-free feet, pack- free backs or privacy; journeying each day in fellowship, and encountering humanity at its very best; walking with humility as pilgrims shared stounding stories of grief or hardship and joy, then falling exhausted into bed after 38.7km, and rising again full of optimism in the new day was extraordinary.

I can only say that I found something of my soul on this journey. I met Jesus in the people beside me and the characters from the wonderful coastal and rural communities of regional Australia.

Walking through the Australian landscape was to experience the scripture of this great and beautiful land, with its breathtaking and wild coastline, the wide open spaces of stock routes and pine tree forests. It was a place of deep silences, neverending sands, roaring winds and hail, a place of forged friendships, tears, prayer and laughter.

Mary says, “Courage, courage, trust in God who helps you in all things.”

Uniquely Australian, this pilgrimage is raw, it's tough and it forces you to dig deep into your psyche and soul. It really opened my eyes to the challenges Mary MacKillop faced in her time, the obstacles she overcame and the sacrifices she endured to step out in faith.

Walking for kilometres on end, staring at the neverending horizon, you find you have hours on your hands to collect your thoughts and engage in conversations you don’t normally have in everyday life. The Camino opens a space for people to express themselves on a whole other level.

The accompaniment of people who were experiencing significant parts of their lives, especially those that contained grief, opened real insights into our own lives. It made us aware that people embark on the Camino for all sorts of reasons.

One of the most beautiful aspects of my journey was the company of my husband who joined me on the Camino. It allowed us to experience a powerful moment in our lives where we found who we were as a couple and also gave me a level of safety that only couples can experience together.

Whilst we may have experienced self-doubt, fear and anxiety at times, it was the anticipation, deep conversations and moments of fellowship that truly made this experience one to remember.

A special thanks goes to:

  • John Wakely who brought this pilgrimage to my attention and who courageously led our second troop into the horizon.

  • Luke Mills who has registered and developed the route.

  • Dr Adam Frost who became our official support driver on the second Camino.

  • The Catholic Schools Office which supports the spirituality of its people.

  • All of those who travelled with us, travelling in hope and trust.

  • And our friends on social media who cheered us on and sent us prayers.

Finally, I look forward to the future journeys I hope to share with those brave hearts who choose to step out in faith with me once again in 2018.

Buen Camino!

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