PILGRIMAGE TO FATIMA
 
http://www.sisterraquel.com/2014/12/pilgrimage
 
By Bernie V. Lopez
eastwind@replyctr@gmail.com
 
Introduction
 
As a young man back in 1976, tired of the Big Apple, which I called a ‘spiritual desert’, I embarked on an adventure of lifetime, drifting for three long years in Europe and North Africa. I dubbed my adventure as eastwind. Out of sheer boredom, looking desperately for meaning, I dared to drift indefinitely, searching for spirituality. I know of no Filipino who has tried this. There were brothers Bert and Raffy, but they did only 6 months, somewhere between Switzerland to Sweden. The four maps showing my route are mind-boggling, 25,000 kilometers through 18 countries. (see maps – http://www.sisterraquel.com/2014/12/4-maps). I wrote a book on it called Wings and Wanderlust (the Art of Discovering Your Inner Self), more on the meaning of life rather than just a mere travelogue. This is an excerpt from the book.
 
The Pilgrimage

 

to be idle is not evil
you must be empty
so you can be filled
in the principle of yoga meditation
nothingness complements fullness
they are cosmic partners
like yin and yang
like light and darkness
yielding shadows and shapes
 
After six months of winter hitchhiking moving south from Brussels to Canary Islands on a frenzied pace, I headed north for spring, hitting Lisbon like a lightning bolt. It was time to stop soaring and to start gliding gently. I embarked on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima, a 7-day 80-kilometer hike from Lisbon. This was the time of meditation and soul searching, to pray that I could “find myself” somehow, to pray for light in an era of darkness. After the spiri­tual desert of New York, I wandered aimlessly, looking for an oasis somewhere in the vastness.
 
I left half of my things in Lisbon, keeping my backpack weight to 1.5 kilos for the long distance hike on beach san­dals. I had a sleeping bag, no tent (my guardian angel made sure it would not rain, except a drizzle on day 4, and for a reason), extra pants and shirt, matches and candle (no flashlight), a map, no cooking gear, and uncooked food of bread, fruits, sausages, and wine or milk on a skin bag.
 
I took the bus to the outskirts of Lisbon. As I walked north, the city gradually faded; the traffic vanished; the noise dwindled. I was tired at the end of day 1, but it was good for the soul. After dinner, I slept early. I slept in the open air most of the time, anywhere convenient in the farm fields. In the early morning of day 2, I was in the purity and magic of the Portuguese country­side. All of a sudden, there were quaint villages. The road narrowed but never ended.
 
I prayed the rosary about 4 times a day. I did about 2 kilo­meters per hour, or one kilometer in 20 to 30 minutes. I walked about 10 kilometers a day for about 5 to 6 hours, minus rest and lunch, from 7 am to 5 pm. I hiked the 80 kilometers to Fatima in seven days.
 
In the morning of day 2, I brushed my teeth in a quaint village fountain at the cen­tral plaza, as if it were my hotel suite. I awoke at six o’clock and did not have breakfast until nine. I bought provisions in small village stores. I pre­ferred milk from wine in my skin bag during this gruel­ling work out.
 
On day 3, entering a small village, a bunch of children ran to greet me. They were all shouting “Peregrino, peregrino” (pilgrim). They crowded each other, giggling and staring at me. They suddenly dis­persed into a nearby orchard, and came back with 2 kilos of peaches. I could only take half a kilo. An old woman came out of a house, shouting at the children. They stole the peaches, I surmised. I waved and smiled at her. Her anger dissipated into a smile. I had to eat them right away because they were getting heavy. The children followed me to the edge of the village. They were singing and shouting and I felt embarrassed because people would come out of their houses and stare. After the village, the silence screamed at me.
 
On day 4, my Christmas story began.
 
it was not a dream that drove me
to take wings but a nightmare
now I prayed to Him to guide me
through the cruel world out there
as I did not know the ‘way’
 
on the fourth day, there was a slight drizzle
so I asked a farmer
if I could sleep in his sheep’s shed
 
the shed had a certain sheep odor
that was a bit offensive
all of a sudden, the birth of Jesus
came to me in a flash
 
the drizzle was perhaps sent by the Lord
to give Light that I was asking for
I suddenly realized how it defies the imagination
that the Creator of the universe
was humble enough to permit Himself
to be born in a crib meant for new-born sheep
in a sheep shed which smelled
 
the hay of such a crib is itchy on the skin
the swaddling cloth helps
but still the God who made all of us
did not stay in a three star inn
but a no-star sheep shed
 
His power must be awesome and limitless
to be able to do this
the omnipotent God
in total humility born in a manger
at whose side powerful kings
and winged angels knelt in adoration
 
He set an example
on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago
to be able to save all of us
that is my short and simple Christmas story
 
On day 5, I spent the night under an olive tree on top of a knoll. I could see the panorama of the valley below, olive trees all around, reminding me of Gethsemani. There was a stone fence down below twisting and turning, vanishing into the bluish mist. It looked like a paint­ing. I heard the faint peal of sheep bells. I wondered if the bells were tolling for me, not for the end but for the beginning of my life.
 
It was here that Our Lady of Fatima gave me the gift of inner peace. It was overwhelming. I was almost in tears. It was my ‘reward’ from Our Lady, her way of showing her pres­ence. The moment was intense and magical. I can never forget that feeling because it was so clear, so overpowering, and so rare in a lifetime full of schedules and tasks and storms and whirlwinds. It was the gift of inner peace. In hind sight, I would be a journalist, and I would write many articles on Our Lady of Fatima and her messages of salvation and disaster.
 
inner peace may not always be a gift
you may have to earn it
when you finally find it
you will discover it was built into your soul
long before you were born
when you were crafted in a super-nova
billions of years ago
you just have to make it come out
somewhere sometime somehow
otherwise life is absurd
whe you finally find it
keep it and do not lose it
because it is a treasure of your life time

 

On day 6, my pace was faster to make it to Fatima by day 7. There it was at a distance, the gothic spires reaching up to the heavens. I reached Fatima at night, and ended up sleeping outside the giant portals of the church. Every hour, until dawn, the huge bells rang and echoed in my soul. I could hardly sleep.

 

At the crack of dawn of day 7, I was up, afraid the early church goers might see me sprawled at the door step of the church. Everything was grey and misty. At a dis­tance, I dis­cerned a crowd. It was an early out­door Mass near where they had a spring of the miraculous water that had cured thousands of people in the last few decades. After Mass, I put some water from the spring on my forehead. That was the end of the pil­grimage. I was not expecting any miracles. After the pilgrimage, I was no longer worried about “finding myself”. I somehow knew it would come in its own time, this self-discovery. After the pilgrimage, I knew eastwind would end in a nice way. I lost my angst at Fatima.

 

It was strange. I could go from total dark­ness to blinding light without flinching. It was as if I was longing for it and was expecting it. It was like the ice-water shower after half an hour in the steam room at Amsterdam’s Melkeweg. Life on the road was a pendulum swing, from the chaos of Las Palmas to the serenity of the Papagayo cave, from passion with Vicky to prayer at Fatima, from total solitude in Madrid to total immer­sion in Andorra. I took the bus back to Lisbon, picked up my stuff, and hitched north with my guitar towards Coimbra and Santander and the mystique of the Basque people. I was sporting a brand-new soul. eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com

 

amdg