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.

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