Camino pilgrimage set for the summer

Blaise Jirak walks last summer toward Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain on a segment of the Camino de Santiago. (Courtesy photo)

Ready to hike with the Lord?

A camino pilgrimage information night will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21, at the Ora et Labora building located at 240 W. Wichita Ave. in Colwich. To register for the evening or for more information about the pilgrimage, visit ictpilgrimages.comThe Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is from May 30 to June 11. The nine days of walking will start in Ponferrada, Spain, and traverse 120 miles, or about 13 miles a day. Neither Al Jirak nor Fr. Chad Arnold will be paid for the trip. They are going as volunteer leaders. The estimated cost of $1,500 per person includes air, trains, food, and lodging.

The Camino de Santiago is a long walk with the Lord – one that Al Jirak and Fr. Chad Arnold want to share.

Last summer Jirak walked 500 miles of one of the pilgrimage routes with three of his eldest sons. Most of the routes begin in France. All end on the northwest corner of Spain, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is buried.

Jirak, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colwich and the father of 10 children with his wife Teresa, said he had dreamed of walking the Camino for years. “And if I wanted to do with my boys, it was kind of the time to do it.”

The Jiraks arrived at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on July 19, 2021. From left are Al, Blaise, Gabriel, and Augustine. They started walking on June 17. (Courtesy photo)

The month-long pilgrimage was mind-blowing, he said. “It was great for our relationships. It was great for our intellect and great for our spirituality. It was just overwhelming. It was everything I thought it was going to be. I had pretty high expectations but I just knew it was going to deliver.”

Jirak said he benefited spiritually from the trip in many ways, especially in his discipline, his prayer life, and his relationship with his sons. He and his sons benefitted from the hike so much, he wants to share the experience.

Jirak said while researching the idea he was surprised to find that several dioceses in the United States regularly sponsor Camino pilgrimages. “What if we did that in the Wichita diocese? What if we create a devotion to it in this diocese?”

He discussed the idea with his wife, about how the pilgrimages bond father and son and how they nurture a relationship with Our Lord.
“So the idea we came up with is what if we did a shorter version of the Camino?” he said, using a short route – 100 kilometers (62 miles) – that still qualifies as a Camino. “Pilgrims would still be able to get their compostela, their official document.”

Jirak also had another revelation – one that means Fr. Arnold would be looking for hiking boots. “As far as vocations are considered, that’s the same target audience,” Jirak said. “Fr. Chad would be very interested in deepening relationships with some of those folks. That would provide them the opportunity to meet the vocations director in an environment where they may not normally do so.”