In Your Midst

The Pilgrimage of Faith

August 2008

Cathedral parishioners offer meditations on the journey

I began the camino de Santiago is search of confirmation.  In the early part of 2008, after a long discernment, I applied to enter the Society of Jesus.  About the same time, I bought my plane tickets to Spain to make the 500-mile trek to the tomb of St. James in Compostela.  Never before had the timing seemed so right.  Like many of the other pilgrims along the way, I wanted to reflect on the interior camino by which God had led me.  And, as I said, I wanted confirmation. Confirmation that the next step I had planned for my journey was one God had in mind as well.

I arrived in Pamplona on a Friday afternoon with plans to take a bus to the traditional starting point of Roncesvalles on the French border.  I asked the clerk at the bus station about the bus to Roncesvalles.  She pointed to the last bus pulling away behind me, told me the next bus left Monday, and shut the ticket window before I could ask any more questions.  A little crestfallen, I wandered out of the bus station, and stumbled upon what would become a familiar sight in the coming weeks: a squat concrete waymarker with a yellow scallop shell and an arrow.  I had found the pilgrim route of St. James, or rather, the pilgrim route found me.  I walked in the direction of the setting sun, and a few miles outside of Pamplona found my first albergue, an inexpensive hostel for pilgrims.  The hospitalero welcomed me and gave me my pilgrim’s due: a bunk, a stamp on my credencial and a “Buen camino” for tomorrow’s journey.

Along with millions of other pilgrims, I had been swept up by the current of the camino.  The tidal force of that journey gathered “people of every race, language and way of life” (Eucharistic Prayer) into a people oriented toward a common destination and motivated by a deeply human search.

As I write this reflection, my camino is still unfinished.  I have not yet set my eyes on the cathedral towers in Santiago from a hilltop immodestly called the Mount of Joy.  Until then, I enjoy a much more pedestrian sight, the yellow waymarkers hidden along the way on the sides of buildings, beside wheat fields and tucked between narrow streets. This is the only confirmation I can hope for before I enter the Jesuit novitiate, not an expansive view from a mountain height, but a waymarker hidden in the brush, a reminder that the path I trod has been walked by many feet before my own and a pointer toward our destination, “that new world where the fullness of God’s peace will be revealed.”

Curtis Leighton

The dictionary talks about pilgrimage as a journey to a holy place.  My journey began when my family moved to a small town in northern Minnesota, where I entered first grade in a Catholic school.  Three years later we moved to a place where the closest Catholic Church was ten miles away.  When my father became seriously ill, I was sent to live with a great aunt in Iowa, and then to California where I lived with an aunt and uncle.  I took the bus to Mass on Sundays, but it seemed lonely.  No one said hello, and the priest was never at the door to greet you.  One Sunday I decided that I could live a Christian life without a church building.  I didn’t go back.

Now, fast-forward many, many years to 2007.  One day a friend, Renan Jeffereis, invited me to an organ concert at St. James Cathedral.  The beauty of the Cathedral and the music seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Sometime later, Renan told me how he had been raised a Catholic, but had gotten away from the Church.  As time went on, he felt there was something missing, and felt a need to get back.  He discovered Welcome Back at St. James, attended the meetings, and became a member.  He went on and on about the excellence of the program, and suggested it to me.

The last two or three years, I had been thinking about getting back to the Church.  Now, listening to Renan, the tugging was stronger yet.  Maybe now would be a good time.  I could give Welcome Back a try.  It couldn’t hurt, thought I.  Well, it was one of the best things I ever did!  First of all, the welcome is for real.  TerryAnn Bowen, the program’s leader, and her group are so friendly, so sincere, so knowledgeable, so—well—just welcoming!  I met so many excellent presenters.  Even Father Ryan took the time to spend an evening with us.

Many changes had taken place in the church since I was away, but changes for the better!  Many of them to do with a significant shift toward more participation by the people.  At St. James, with our dedicated, inspired leadership, there are hundreds upon hundreds of parishioners, in Jesus’ footsteps, volunteering to serve others.  Among them, educators, counselors, those that feed the hungry, or make beautiful music, or aid the handicapped, or participate in the liturgy.  Some are just folks like you and me.  Some are saints in the making, but all doing more than their share to keep their commitment to Christ, as one who serves.

Sometimes when I come to Mass early, and can sit in the quiet of this sacred place, and think about our parish, and the texture and goodness of our people, I realize how blessed I am.  That my pilgrimage is over, and I have reached that holy place.

Dick Mueller

We received our faith from our parents.  It was different being Catholic back then.  Now the Catholic faith is so open--faith is discussed, talked about.  Back in Vietnam, growing up, faith wasn’t scrutinized.  It was so untainted, undisguised.  It was matter of life and death.  This is how our parents raised us in the faith.

We’re both “boat people.”  We escaped from Vietnam in the early 1980s: Van arrived in the U.S. after a year in a refugee camp in Thailand.  The boat she was on was pirated twice.  Linh came to the U.S. via Malaysia.  He was fourteen years old and almost died on the boat when they went six days with no food or water.  It was just Linh and his father; it wasn’t until twelve years later that they were reunited with his mother and siblings.

But our parents’ faith never wavered through all of this.

We met singing in the youth choir at the Southeast Asian Vicariate in Portland.  We were married in 1992, and we have two children, Khoa, 14, and Uyen, 9.

In some ways being Catholic is much easier here.  You’re free to practice your faith, to go to church.  Later on, you realize it’s harder.  There are so many choices, so many distractions.  In Vietnam, your faith is tested daily.  Will I eat tomorrow?  Will I be thrown in jail?  Here, it’s so different… there are so many material things, we’re so busy all the time.  It’s a different battle here to keep our faith going strong.

In Vietnam, our families lived in fear, we really had nothing, except trusting in God completely.  Here, it’s so easy to forget that, we think we can rely on ourselves.
We used to go to the Church of the Vietnamese Martyrs, but once we came to a daily Mass here, and heard Father Ryan preach.  That changed everything.  He really challenges us to do more, to be better.  Our faith is so much stronger because of St. James.  We’re so strengthened by being in the parish community, and we have a second family in the Children’s Faith Formation department, where we teach Sunday School.  We feel we really need to be here to support others and to be supported in our faith.

Raising our children in the faith is a big challenge.  Sometimes it seems that growing up here is like growing up in Disneyland.  When we grew up, we didn’t know whether we’d eat… we knew our parents could be taken away at any time.  Our parents would always tell us, “If I’m not here tomorrow, you will be OK:  God will take care of you.”  And it was true.

We know we have to teach by example, as our parents did.  It should be engrained in our children that everything they have is a gift from God.  We pray for our children every day:  “Lord, help us teach them the way you want… not the way we want.”  When they get older, they won’t face the same challenges as us or our parents.  But their challenge will be to do more for others.

Van & Linh Tran

I have never felt apart from God.  Ever since my youngest days, I clearly remember feeling that I “knew” what many others around me didn’t understand the same way. I knew my own understanding of God was what was right for me.  I have felt the presence in my life throughout all the good and the bad.

In my late teens, and into my twenties I did not give my Catholic upbringing and faith much thought.  I felt that I didn’t need to go to a building on Sunday in order to have my own relationship with God.  I was the typical, “I’m spiritual but not religious” college student and young professional.  It was what I thought worked for me.  Then, I met a lovely city called Seattle.  I had visited Seattle from my home in the Midwest many times in my young adulthood and made a conscious decision that one day I would move there.  After completing my teaching degree, I knew it was time.

When making the decision to move so far from all of my family and friends, I knew it was the right one for me.  I knew God would guide me and help me transition to my new life.  Within the first three months of arriving I met my future husband, and got my first full-time teaching position!

After getting married, and working toward starting a family, I knew that I could not do it without getting back to my religious faith.  It was a sensation that had been creeping up on me, gradually but consciously.  Upon the birth of my daughter, Lucia, my husband and I took a class about baptism at St. James.  We were having her baptized in my childhood parish in Michigan, but we took the class at St. James.  Theresa Van de Ven helped us get into the class and paperwork set up, and also informed me about Terry Bowen and the Welcome Back program.  I was absolutely overjoyed with my first connection in the church!  I attended Welcome Back and decided to continue developing my faith by also taking Confirmation classes.  I was Confirmed this spring, and a true blessing from that experience was having our marriage “blessed” by Father Ryan.  Words cannot adequately express how much love and joy I have felt throughout this process.  I know God has guided me to the right place!

As I continue my journey back to the Church, I am excited to have such a fantastic parish and community in which to raise my child, and future children.  I also realize that my religious faith will continue to grow and develop even more as I stay involved with St. James.

Sara-Marie Mader Wallas

When I consider the course of my life thus far, I’m reminded that one can never really know just what God has in store. Despite having always been a person of faith, it was not until about 15 years ago that I began to examine and explore the faith that had lain dormant up to that point. I look back at all that has happened since, and I can confidently say that neither my family, my friends nor I could have anticipated what it all would entail, not to mention what my future might hold: a pilgrimage for sure, unplanned though it was.

St. James has been a significant part of this pilgrimage.

Like a considerable number of St. James parishioners, I am a convert to Catholicism. But oddly, even before I began my first RCIA class at St. James, I had some undefined idea of a religious vocation. I remember well my experience of RCIA and my anticipation of entering the Church, still not having the fullest sense of the rich tradition into which I was entering and still yet contending with thoughts of a religious vocation. I recall unloading on Helen Oesterle about these thoughts swarming in my head and her prudent response, that I should “for the time being, focus on the sacraments of initiation that were only weeks away”! But the idea wouldn’t go away. Perhaps most influential in initiating my call were priests whom I observed and admired. I couldn’t fully understand it, but somehow I knew that they embodied what I felt drawn to be. But it was Fr. Peter Chirico who asked me if I had thought about being a priest and a few weeks later I asked him to tell me how to go about exploring what seemed like an unrealistic pursuit.

Seminary life has been also been a significant part of my pilgrimage. After a lengthy process, applying with the Archdiocese and Archbishop Brunett’s acceptance, I began seminary studies in the fall of 2003 at Sacred Heart School of Theology. In addition to the academics, the community life and spiritual formation, I don’t think I could have anticipated all the experiences seminary would bring, such as opportunities to learn from and work with Catholic Relief Services in Nicaragua and opportunities to study in Mexico. I could not have foreseen the rewards my pastoral year at St. Anthony’s in Renton would bring, nor the powerful experience of being at the youth/seminarian rally with Pope Benedict XVI in April. Seminary life has been full of many such life-shaping rewards.

I have a full school year remaining, although my ordination to the diaconate is scheduled for November. I greatly look forward to my life as a priest—a pilgrimage in itself, I suppose—and to have the opportunity to be part of the important moments that mark people’s lives, as well as the more ordinary spans in between. I have already had some taste of the profound privilege it is to be invited into the lives of others and be a part of their pilgrimage. Through this year, I ask for your prayers. In turn, you the people of St. James, the community of which I am part, remain in mine. I can’t sufficiently express my gratitude for your support which most certainly has helped sustain my vocation, my pilgrimage. Thank you.

Todd Strange

On June 11, 2005, I left St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, an attractive walled town in the French Pyrenean foothills, and began walking across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

My pilgrimage couldn’t have had a better start. It began after a simple breakfast of bread and coffee with 5 people from France and Germany.  And it couldn’t have had a more glorious conclusion! It ended a few weeks later when hundreds of pilgrims joined together to celebrate the Eucharist at Santiago’s magnificent cathedral. We joined the countless people over the centuries who have made their way here from all parts of the globe to visit the place where the remains of St. James are allegedly buried. We came together to give thanks to our God for helping us complete the journey, and we came together at Eucharist to pray for God’s grace to continue the journey when we returned home to our daily lives.

Along the way I met people from 18 different countries. Some walked, some biked, some walked and rode a bus, and some flew. Every day, rain or shine, rested or exhausted, alone or with others, our life consisted of this: we kept our eyes focused on Santiago and directed all our efforts to that one ultimate purpose.

When I think back on the experience, I’m filled with much more awe, wonder, and gratitude than I felt in those weeks.  Now I understand much more clearly that each of us, whether we wanted to admit it then or not, were hearkening to the cry of God’s love in our hearts. It was the Holy Spirit who was the source of the inspiration for each of us. It was the Holy Spirit who gave us the energy we needed to make the arduous and often monotonous journey. It was the Holy Spirit who helped us recognize God’s beauty in the beauty of the landscapes of Spain, the Romanesque churches and Gothic cathedrals, the daily liturgies, and the Spaniards who extended such generous hospitality to everyone. It was the Holy Spirit, through the care and friendship of those walking with us every day, who provided us with much needed nourishment.

My marriage to Karen, raising our family, caring for Karen’s mom in the final years of her life, and my work with students at Bishop Blanchet High School have all been sources of God’s grace in my life. My pilgrimage to Santiago was another profound and humbling experience of God’s transforming love.

Leo Genest

My eldest son watched in bewilderment as I packed my china, closed my Chicago business and sold my car. I was off to Seattle, where I would celebrate my retirement by serving as a Jesuit Volunteer. As an advocate for the homeless, I would earn an eighty-dollar monthly stipend, while living with five strangers between the ages of 55 and 80.

I was on a pilgrimage, and I trusted that things would work out.  I might even find some treasures along the way.

I did. One Sunday I walked into St. James Cathedral. Father Ryan’s homily seemed intended just for me. He spoke of Abraham and Sarah and the “letting go” involved in their leaving their homeland for Canaan. “In their advanced years God broke into the quiet of their lives and told them to move—to leave everything behind.”

In leaving everything behind I discovered a new-found energy, and in 2001 I joined 200 parishioners on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, St. James’ burial site. As I peered through the rain-splattered windows of the bus winding its way along the Camino, I thought of the thousands who made this journey on foot.  The only way they could reach their goal was to travel light. There was no room for “extras”—worry, regret and preoccupation with things.

My pilgrimage continues back in Seattle, where I walk daily to 5:30 Mass at St. James. Then I travel down First Hill to Horizon House, the retirement community from which I recently retired. These members of the Greatest Generation have modeled for me how to spend the time I have left.  Will I have their grace and courage when I am on my final pilgrimage?  What about creativity, writing my memoirs, spending time with my granddaughter, or reading Moby Dick?   There were more mundane questions, as I faced my second retirement. Do I have enough to live on? How can I leave the sustaining love of Horizon House? What would Abraham and Sarah have done?

A retreat in “Life Transitions,” a no-frills budget, and a retirement plan helped me leap across the precipice.  God caught me.

At 76 (one year older than Abraham when he started his pilgrimage), I’m working my way through Moby Dick; I’m on chapter three in my memoirs; I’m off to Grandparents Day.  And I’m holding my fragile siblings and friends closer.

Here are tips for your pilgrimage: Travel light. You’ll never get through security with fear and busyness in your carry-on. Trust is the best passport. And remember to pack the great pilgrim, Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours.

Helen Donnelly Goehring

What brought me to St. James Cathedral? My sister, Monya.  We were cradle Catholics, baptized as infants, and we celebrated our First Communion during elementary school.  Our parents let us choose whether or not we would be confirmed.  As a teen I never really thought much about confirmation so pursuing it wasn’t my priority. It was for my Nana, though—she thought about it a lot! About a year after she died my sister decided that she wanted to be confirmed and the place to do it was St. James Cathedral.  We had been to the Cathedral on occasion, but mostly Christmas and Easter.  I decided I might as well tag along and see what this was all about.  As an adult I had questions about the Church and how it chose its stance on certain things.  The Confirmation class was amazing as was the instructor, Rosanne Michaels.  I had never met anyone quite so open and welcoming in the church and so ready to answer questions.  I was hooked!  After my confirmation I became a full fledged member of the St. James Cathedral family.  Shortly thereafter I was invited to be part of the Confirmation team myself.  I was so surprised that they would want someone so new to the parish to be a confirmation team member. I remember thinking “Are they crazy?!” Maybe so, but during the Jubilee year, I became a catechist and again, I was hooked!

The ‘family’ of St. James never became more supportive than when my brother was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. During his two-year battle, our St. James family was there with my family and me all the way.  Father Ryan made every attempt to see my brother when he was at Virginia Mason receiving treatments, even during busy Holy Week. Marc lost his valiant battle with cancer on December 26, 2004. The members of my various ministries were there for me in a way that I truly needed and appreciated. I couldn’t have made it without them. Then St. James started yet another ministry—Journey Through Grief.  What amazing timing!  Marc had been gone for almost two years and it still felt like it just happened.  Along with Sister Anne and the other members of the team the walk through this journey was so amazing.  Tears and laughter, frustration and anger were all accepted and welcomed feedback about what we were going through.  It truly was a journey, with prayer, friendship, guidance and yes, even a little homework now and then.  I wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world.

You never know what you are truly seeking until you find it.  St. James Cathedral was that for me.  A missing piece I had been searching for, where I have found my home.

Kristen Mandich

My little boy recently discovered a photo album of a trip I took nearly 10 years ago. He regularly flips through the pages, grinning widely as he spots a photo of me and calling my name. Those photos are of a pilgrimage I made to Santiago de Compostela, arriving joyfully on foot and crowding around the Holy Door to gain entrance to that St. James Cathedral. My arrival date was significant—Sunday July 25, 1999, the Feast of St. James, the last Holy Year of that century. We were connected, those of us there. Not connected so much by the date of our arrival, but by the fact that we had joined the millions of pilgrims who once made the same journey for centuries.

The image of pilgrimage, a journey to a holy place, is an apt metaphor for Christian life. In our daily grind it is easy to forget that our journey as Christians can be experienced as pilgrimage when we remember that we are destined for holiness through the call of our baptism and that our compasses are oriented towards Christ. Yes, we waver and life sometimes spins us around in the wrong direction. But we share this pilgrimage together and God is there, often in the faces of our companions. Our connection as Catholics is grounded in our journey to the Eucharistic table where we receive our “food for the road,” Christ.

For me the daily routine of lacing my hiking boots before I stepped back onto the gravel of the Camino in the cool early morning is replaced with the uncooperative squirms of my children’s feet as I try to fit them into their shoes before leaving home. I am still a pilgrim, my wife and children my good companions, revealing God along the way.

Stuart Ling

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