Fathers and sons walk with St. James

One of the beautiful vistas on one of routes of the Camino de Santiago recently walked by a group from the Diocese of Wichita. (Courtesy photo)

Group from the diocese walks 120 miles of the Camino de Santiago

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There was a lot of bonding between father and son – and father and son – during the 120 miles between Ponferrada, Spain, and Santiago de Compostela.

A group of 13 dads, 16 sons, and two priests associated with the Diocese of Wichita took part in a Camino de Santiago May 31 to June 11.
Al Jirak, who helped coordinate the event, said the trek is unique because pilgrims are taken out of their normal routine: there’s no technology, he said, they simply walk, talk, and pray with others.

“The sons get a lot of attention from their fathers,” Jirak said. “ It’s something they can’t get anywhere else. It’s not that you’re talking the entire time – certainly there was a lot of that discussion and interesting things to see – but there’s also just ‘being’ there.”
The increased bonding between father and son was evident as the group walked and shared the sites, he said.

A slow, gentle rain

“It was like a slow, gentle rain over a period of time,” he said. “Not necessarily big thunderclaps or huge moments, but just that time together. And the fruit of the Camino hasn’t yet been harvested. That will continue as they share their experiences and mull over them.”

Jirak said the relationships that developed among the Kansans will persist on this side of the Atlantic. “There’s a higher chance of us continuing and bearing fruit compared to the people who came from all over the world.”

Before the trip most of the Wichita pilgrims were strangers, he said. Afterward, they were strangers no more.

Mass at Portomarín

One of the highlights of the Camino for Jirak was a Sunday Mass celebrated at Portomarín. With two priests on board – Fr. Chad Arnold and Fr. Chris Rumback – the group was able to take part in daily Mass. There was the usual Sunday morning Mass at Church of San Xoán (Saint John) of Portomarín but no evening Mass when the pilgrims would arrive.

One of Father Arnold’s tasks was to scramble ahead of the group to locate a place for Mass at the site they would spend the night. That Sunday Father received permission for an evening Mass at the church and after passing the word around they attached a hand-written sign announcing a 6:30 p.m. Mass.

“That’s all we did,” Jirak said. “Well, lots of people must have walked up to that door and figured that out because when we arrived at, you know, 6:28, the church was full – a nonscheduled Mass and it was Pentecost. There are people from around the world. That was breathtaking.”
Fr. Chad Arnold

It was special for Fr. Rumback

Fr. Chad Arnold said the Camino was special for Fr. Rumback because it had been recommended by his spiritual director that he focus on his sonship of God the Father.

“He had a wonderful time at that,” Fr. Arnold said, adding that because he (Fr. Arnold) was serving as the group’s chaplain he had a bit more responsibility.

“So, I was living more in the priestly role. It was wonderful to be available to be with the men and their sons, to answer questions. We had some beautiful conversations about the meaning of suffering and unanswered prayers. As a priestly witness, it was a blessing.”

Fr. Arnold said if he had gone by himself he likely would have worn more comfortable, non-clerical clothing. “But since I was serving the role of chaplain, I decided to wear clerics. People would come up and because of the fact of having the collar, it was an invitation, which is interesting too, because the Camino has become much more secularized.”

Reinvigorate Catholicism

One of the reasons Jirak has been leading Camino trips is to reinvigorate Catholicism into the trek, he said.

Fr. Arnold recalled an elderly man outside a church who saw a crucifix tucked into the strap of his backpack. “He comes over, pulled me down a bit, and kissed the crucifix.”

That man also wanted to pray a rosary with Father while walking. “This man recognized a priest and fatherhood and he wanted to be with me and because of that to pray together. There were a bunch of little moments like that.”

Fr. Arnold said while working in the diocese he is often running from meeting to meeting. “There are no meetings there. I could live my own spiritual fatherhood in a little bit slower pace and a more attentive pace than in the workaday world. So, just as the fathers were able to slow down with their sons, I was able to slow down in my paternal aspect of my priesthood. That was a great, great privilege.”

Mass in an ancient church

He added that celebrating Mass in the ancient churches was a highlight for him and Fr. Rumback.

“I’ve been privileged in my life to see a lot of beautiful places and churches and celebrate Mass there,” Fr. Arnold said. “Fr. Rumback, who’s only been a priest for a year, came up to me (at the Benedictine monastery) and said, in a way Fr. Rumback does, ‘You can say no if you want, but can I celebrate Mass here?’ Not only can you, I said, you should.”

That awakened his paternal, priestly spirit, Fr. Arnold said, adding that Fr. Rumback has a beautiful voice and did a wonderful job.
“That moment of him asking, realizing this is something special for him, watching him celebrate Mass with him – that was a highlight for me.”

Fr. Arnold also recalled one evening when Jirak’s sons bought one of the large bars of chocolate sold at the Benedictine Monastery of San Xulián de Samos.

“These pieces of chocolate were huge and in the evening the boys were at it. It reminded me of beavers working on a tree,” Father said.