The following is the last installment, written July 19, in the series from Fr. Edward Hopkins LC about walking “The Camino de Santiago” the pilgrimage through France and Spain to the tomb of St. James in Compostela in northwest Spain. All his blogs are on the Regnum Christi New York Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RegnumChristiNY.
Dear family and friends in Christ,
I am now in Rome preparing to start my month long spiritual exercises – not to preach but to do them myself… 30 days for the first time! Please keep me in your prayers this month, as I will you.
Our Camino ended in a way that should not surprise by now, with more blessings. We went in the morning after arriving to Santiago in order to get our “Diplomas” for doing the Camino. After that we made a quick visit again to the Cathedral in order to give the statue of St James a hug! It is one of those traditions here. The rest of the Cathedral was inspiring as well. People from all over the world coming together to honor Our Lord and his Apostles who have gone before us and have shown us the Way. In fact after celebrating our Mass here I met a fairly large RC group from Mexico!
I am sure there was much more to see: the night life in Santiago… a lot of music on the streets…. And more monuments to faith… but we had to get on the road home because we have planned on the way to visit Avila, where St Teresa of Jesus began her reform of the Carmelites. The trip was smooth. Carlos was a great driver. We stopped for our traditional 2nd breakfast and finally came into Avila! What a sight! I had seen it once before but only in passing when I studied in Salamanca about 30 years ago! The old part of the city is surrounded by a huge wall, preserved in its medieval look. We didn’t have time to walk around on top of the wall – but we went through the city… hasn’t changed much in the past few hundred years I suspect. We skipped a museum to stop in and see an old convent of St Teresa… we thought it was a kind of museum – it was that and more.
My real target was the convent of the Incarnation – famous since St Teresa began there, and I have heard much about it over the years. In fact the sister of one of my Legionary classmates is now Prioress (superior) there. Well, we never got there…
When we reached the house of St. Joseph’s (the museum and more) we discovered that this was precisely where St Teresa began the reform when she left the Incarnation…. And that it was still a CONVENT of the discalced Carmelites!! We were amazed and our amazement grew. I had not celebrated Mass yet but we were OK since we did the vigil last night, but I still like to celebrate Mass each day if I can… My plan was to celebrate back at the LC house once we arrived in Madrid.
Yet as we were in the chapel of the Convent of St Joseph, having begun to realize its significance, one of our group asked a volunteer who cares for the place about having Mass there. She in turn went and spoke with one of the Carmelite contemplatives within the cloister. Not only did she give us permission, but permission to celebrate in the exact original foundation where St Teresa began, a little chapel next door, not always open and accessible!! A few minutes later and we would have been too late to do it.
We were very excited. I then had the opportunity to speak with the sister (who remained hidden behind the turnstile). She was very kind and gentle, one of the older sisters there I’d guess. When she confirmed that I was a Legionary she encouraged me: “You have suffered much… experienced something quite extraordinary (referring to these past few years since the scandal broke)… the Lord in His kind providence is with you… purification is always good… We love the Legionaries and have been praying very hard for you. You will be fine and have in an important mission… we will continue to pray for you!”
This was beyond just a special grace. It really touched me. I very much admire and esteem these Carmelites who still live a very austere life, barefoot and with only what they most need. And one of their first apostolates is to pray for priests. As I left the window… I knew I had a lot to give thanks for… for the group and on my own behalf.
The Mass was quiet in that little chapel, joined by 3 Spaniards, so we again celebrated in Spanish and English. This house that St Teresa and her first sisters first moved into measured only about 20′ x 10′ at most; though the chapel had been slightly expanded behind us. The man who gave them the house gave it with one condition that he be buried in their convent. He died as soon as they finished fixing up this first convent and his tomb was in the floor in front of the altar. There was a kind of window in the wall where his wife would hear Mass from in those first days when this was it and the cloister did not allow for more. How great things begin so small! Another lesson of grace!
I should add that there was a small holy water font in the corner that was actually connected to a spring or well used by St Teresa from those first years on. It still runs and miracles have been attributed to its use by the faithful. But its water had been almost used up. We gathered what we could. Then the hidden Sister sent me a small bottle of holy water from that same spring. We also got a larger bottle for the rest of the group and still have it with me.
Much more could be said, but after this we had little need (not to mention little time) for anything more.
I have just one more reflection that I hope to have time to relate concerning one of the greatest graces of this pilgrimage for me: encountering my Legionary brothers and communities in Spain and now in Rome. I doubt I can do justice to this grace but I will try. From the moment of my first stay with the LC community of Madrid up until now in Rome the charity (that I had first been so impressed by 34 years ago when I entered) has just kept going deeper. The Fathers were welcoming, warm and kind, looking after all my needs. It was a joy to see some whom I had not seen since many years ago; Fr Jesus Maria Delgado was a classmate, now Territorial Director for Spain – it had been 23 years since I had seen him, basically when we were ordained together by St. John Paul II. Others, younger ones, I greeted for the first time, like we had know each other for years! In fact because of them, I was able to briefly join the community of those doing their philosophy studies (middle years 10-12 years of formation) in Sorrento where we have a house for summer rest. They treated me to a day of hiking and swimming… and then found a way to get me back to Rome in time for my spiritual exercises that begin tonight. But it is more than what they did. It was the simple, joyful and generous spirit with which I was received. They make you feel like someone important. Now that is the Legion I loved and entered so many years ago. And here it is alive and well!
Funny how going away, we discover what really is so close since I find the same charity at home in my community in Rye, but I guess it becomes normal. What is the Lord saying to me, to us? I will let each of you answer that yourself. But I thank God for all that he has blessed me with: my family, souls – my spiritual family (all of you) of which you are part… and of course my community and the Legion.
I look forward to going deeper in these mysteries and especially that of my relationship with Christ who is everything for me. I thank you all for your prayers, behind so many blessings. I thank you for your prayers anticipated over the next month. And I promise that I will do this retreat for you as well, since in the end a priest is not a priest for himself but Christ, his Church and His spiritual children.
Sorry, it is impossible to express all this as it should be expressed. But with confidence in his grace and love, I look forward to getting back home in a month, renewed and hopefully closer to real holiness!
Thank you for walking with me. God bless all of you and your families!
Yours in Christ,
Fr Edward Hopkins, LC