The following is a reflection by Nadia Bagshaw and her family on making the 2018 pilgrimage together.
Among our family’s favourite memories of 2018, was taking part in the “Walk the Opeongo Line” pilgrimage from Renfrew to Cormac. The seven of us, with children ranging in age from six to sixteen years, had never camped all together. In fact, our two youngest and myself had never slept in a tent or in a sleeping bag outdoors before. Many of our friends wondered how we were going to do this. I was not quite sure we’d make it to the end either!
Organizing ourselves beforehand to bring just the essentials, we packed light. Luckily, I was able to convince my husband that a pillow was indispensable. The pilgrimage was very well organized. Carrying our tent, sleeping bags, luggage and food, a trailer followed the group from campsite to campsite. Every family member brought only what they needed in their backpack for the day: a spare pair of shoes to change into to avoid blisters, lunch for the days when it was not provided, granola bars and apples for weary children, water, a hat, and a windbreaker. At every break point, portable toilets awaited. Many of the rest stops were private homes where generous people had set up shade, water and even snacks for us.
Very much like a three day retreat, we had daily Mass. Attending the Latin Mass enabled us to understand its beauty and tradition. Adoration was a time of reflection, rest and regaining strength. Each pilgrim carried intentions for which they offered their joys and
hardships of walking approximately 20 kilometres per day in sun, rain and wind. Some even had all their belongings soaked in a huge thunderstorm on the first night, but they kept on for the rest of the pilgrimage. It was a great opportunity to detach oneself from preferences, comforts, and media for a few days in order to gain perspective, see the things that were occupying our thoughts in a clearer light as well as God’s hand in them.
When we started off on the first day, we knew very few of our fellow pilgrims. There were participants from Pembroke, Renfrew, Douglas, Deep River, Kingston, North Bay, Killaloe, Ottawa, Barry’s Bay, Sudbury and La Passe. Slowly, as we walked with people, we became more familiar. We learned their names. Some shared sorrows and we prayed for them. Others needed quiet and to be left alone. Many of the adults enjoyed spending time with our children laughing, telling jokes, sharing stories and experiences. By the end of the pilgrimage, we felt like we had gained family. Occasionally, we bump into some of those who accompanied us and it is as if we have known them for years. The shared experience brought us closer.
Everyone always asks how our six year old managed. He is a very active child and likes to be outdoors. When he grew fatigued, someone would give him a piggy back or a snack, play a game of eye spy to distract him, or sing songs. A few times he drove the last few kilometres in the sag wagon.
Despite the effort of walking 64 kilometres in three days, the pilgrimage was restful. Everyone walked at their own pace, enjoyed the nature around them and the company. Far from running around in our day to day lives, we were being and not doing. There was quiet. Relying on God’s grace to keep us going when we felt we couldn’t go another step or things ached because we were using our muscles much longer than we usually use them, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to grow closer to our Lord, understand his suffering and endurance, and spend uninterrupted time with my husband and children.
Our fellow pilgrims were a living witness of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity. Knowing they were making reparation for themselves and those they carried in their hearts, they made small sacrifices cheerfully, helped out those who forgot to pack enough food or needed a hand to put up their tent, encouraged others who thought they couldn’t make it to the end, prayed together and prayed for each other. Living within this mini church for three days, we left energized, refreshed and looking forward to the 2019 pilgrimage.