Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 2 on the "Way" to St Flour

We set off from St Privat-Allier through a woods
We knew that this beauty has been viewed by our sisters for centuries

We came to a small chapel
The next day we set out for Monistrol D'Allier.  We planned to get there and take the train a little further on.  Again, the walk was spectacular- just strenuous enough to be challenging but not killing.

The companionship was wonderful
At the cafe, Peter came to our rescue
Many hills and valleys stretched our muscles
We got to Monistrol around noon.  We went to the train station to check out our options.  The sad news was that the train was out of commission for a two-month repair.  Bus service had also been severely cut back.  We looked around for information but options there were also limited.  It is a really small village with most shops closed. We headed to an open cafe, Le Pain Sucre.  There we learned from Patrick that our options were not good.  After struggling with our French, he went and got the owner who was from England.  He really encouraged us to walk on to Saugues, which he said was the most beautiful part we would walk.  We knew it was 14 more kilometers but once he said the first four were straight up, we knew we were too tired.  As we explored our options, Peter, the owner became rather intrigued by our walk to our roots.  After several minutes of trying to help us generate a solution, he suggested that he would drive us to St Flour the following morning for a very modest fee.  Again, he mentioned his disappointment that we would not see the beautiful countryside.  I said we could probably comfortably do 5 more kilometers but not 14.  Peter said that he had to go water his horses which were about 4.5 kilometers away at the top of the hill.  He suggested that we ride up with him and walk down.  As you will see from the pictures, it was a wonderful idea.

That evening, we stayed at Peter's bed and breakfast. It is called the "Le Repos du Pelerin."  We went to dinner in the attached restaurant and had the pilgrim's special which ended up being a gourmet three course meal for 16 euros.  It was among the best meals I have ever eaten.

That evening we talked about our journey so far, our walk and our lives.  We were filled with the beauty we had seen, the significance of walking where our sisters and pilgrims had walked for centuries, the moments we had shared, and all that brought us to be sitting together as three sisters of St Joseph.  We do not know each other well or long but we share a special bond.  We especially acknowledged the power of our committing to being flexible and letting this journey take us where it might.  Along the way, we received good advice and needed assistance from people who were total strangers to us.

Our desert that evening was an apple tart served in the shape of a shell, the symbol of the pilgrims on the way to Santiago.  As we prepared to leave the "Way to Santiago" and take our particular path to St Flour we were filled with excitement about what lay ahead.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The "Way" to St Flour- Day 1

Srs. Patty, Mary Lou, and Griselda begin from the International Center

Sisters Griselda Martinez Morales from Lyon Mexico, Mary Lou Mitchell from Rochester New York and I (Patty Johnson) from St Louis set out on a pilgrimage from our International Center in Le Puy, France to St Flour, France where the first community of sisters came together in 1648 (before we became officially recognized as a congregation.)  We didn't think we had enough time to walk the whole way so we always knew that we might use public transportation for part of the trip.  We decided we would be flexible along the way and decide our options each day.

The Bishop chats with pilgrims
We began at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Le Puy.  The mass for pilgrims on the "Path to St James Compostelle" in Santiago, Spain, where the apostle St James is buried, is celebrated by the Bishop who presented us with a medal and the invitation to carry some of the prayers left by other pilgrims with us.  We set off out of Le Puy, uphill most of the way and in the rain.  As we left Le Puy, we encountered another pilgrim who we ran into several times throughout our next few days.

When you watch the movie, "The Way," it is somewhat deceiving in that so much of their walking is flat.  Much of our walking was up and down hills.  The scenary was beautiful.  Although a portion of the first day paralleled roads, by the afternoon, we were very much out in the French countryside.

There was a wonderful balance of quiet walking and opportunity for the three of us to talk.  The energy expended going up the hills, the natural beauty, the meaningfulness of where we were hiking, all provided an occasional burst of euphoria similar to that which long distance runners experience.  We knew that we were walking through the homeland where many of our French sisters had walked.  Surely, many had grown up and served in the small villages through which we passed.

Our lunch break in St Christopher
By lunchtime we had hiked 8.5 kilometers to Saint-Christophe-Sur-Dolaizon, a small village with a lovely church and a few stores.  It was obvious that they often welcomed pilgrims and we met up with many of the small groups we had set out with that morning.  At the cathedral in Le Puy, we had shared where we were from and many people remembered Griselda and called out "Mexique" to her as they passed by.
Srs. Mary Lou and Griselda

After lunch the rain stopped, the paths became narrower, and we were more in the country-side.  There were more ups and downs.  By the time we got to Montbonnet, we were pretty tired, it was four in the afternoon and we still had 6.5 kilometers to hike to get to where we were supposed to stop for the night.

We thought we might take a bus to St. Privat-D'Allier.  Although it looked like one might be coming within an hour, a gentleman told us that in fact the sign was wrong.  We were also told it would be hard to get a cab.  We tried several other places and eventually found an internet cafe where we were able to get help.  The owner contacted "Patty" who agreed to transport us to St Privat.  We were so happy to ride the last part of our day.

We arrived at our "Gite d'etape.  We had anticipated sharing a room with three others and a bathroom down the hall but were pleasantly surprised to have the space for only us with our own bathroom and shower.  We had dinner in a common dining room where we met some lovely people.  An English speaking woman from Belgium only seemed to know about contemplative sisters and was quite surprised to learn about us, especially Griselda's work at the United Nations.  A man was walking with his teenage son.  It was quite touching to hear him talk about how the walk was helping him realize that he wanted to develop more of a global perspective.  Another pilgrim in his 20's encouraged him to complete his education, to allow him more possibilities to experience the world by being able to work and travel.  The conversations were quite stimulating- yet we were sound asleep quite quickly that night.