When I left on Friday afternoon for Pamplona, I confessed I had no idea what'd transpire this weekend. Sure I'd heard that this weekend would be 'The Javierada', where many people would walk from Pamplona, or surrounding villages, or anywhere along the route between Pamplona to Javier, the village where St Francis of Xavier (Francisco de Javier) was born.
Having vaguely said yes to an invitation someone made some months back, I gamely signed up to go on this 'hike' (or so I thought) although the original person who invited me backed out because she had a class to attend on Saturday morning. So we set out, 4 brave cats (cuatro gatos), at 5:15 in the morning, finding for ourselves a lovely weather, not cold at all for March, taking into account that just last week it snowed pretty heavily.
On the way to Noain, the airport of Pamplona, we met a middle aged man who regaled us with stories of his various journeys of Camino Santiago and countless Javierada. We walked with him up to Monreal; I was marveled by the witness of his faith. He went this year, he told us, to pray for his two daughters who are self-professed atheists. He is asking for the gift of faith.
At this point (it was 8:10 in the morning when we arrived at Monreal - about 12km from Pamplona) I had not felt fatigue setting in, although a brief pause while a friend took a pee, was a welcome respite. I thought about his remark that "everybody had something to ask", and thought, what'd I have to ask from God? Let me say that I made up my mind to do this Javierada, only in this past week, when something reminded me that my father is baptized Fransiskus Xaverius (that's Latin-- or rather, Indonesian-- spelling of the saint's name) and it seemed like a great pity if, being in his homeland now, I do not take advantage to seek his intercession. So that's what I have come to ask.
An hour and a half from Monreal, I began to realize that I have a problem. We were walking on perfectly paved roads (which some said are bad for the knees). My friend was telling me that I'm dropping my pace, while I was perfectly sure that I am walking at a constant pace. Soon she left me, and I realized everyone else was overtaking me... even children and the elderly pilgrims were walking faster than me. At this point, my legs felt kinda stiff but there was no pain yet. At 11, we passed by "La Venta de Judas", an oasis under a flyover, where volunteers were offering us food & drink. We thirstily drank Aquarius and picked up some goodies for the journey. That was our brief stop, and my company left me behind for the rest of the journey. Soon one hour became two and two became three. We didn't even stop for lunch. I drank liquids, although I wasn't so thirsty. After all the weather was good. We had good fortune: the wind was blowing (mostly) from behind us. The sun was in my eyes (which for most people here is what constitutes good weather) and I felt not the least bit cold.
At about 2 o'clock we "regrouped" at Yesa, to decide whether to stop to eat or continue. We continued, and my company soon left me behind. The last few hours were hellish. I started the day praying the Via Crucis, and realizing for the first time, the fundamental reason why man, does penance and suffers voluntarily, when I said the closing prayer (a la Española) "Señor, pequé." This was the closing prayer that I never quite heard clearly before (having only prayed the Way of the Cross in English, privately of course).
"Señor, pequé." Lord, I have sinned. This is why Javierada attracts thousands of people. The next day I read in the paper that not less than 20,000 people did the Javierada this weekend. I was impressed to see many young people, while expecting to see only the most pious and perhaps, the older population. I think there is something deeper than a simple tradition handed down from generation to generation and it being a good day to 'walk a bit' with friends: there is a deep sense that we ought to make reparation for some thing that we have done wrong against ourselves, against some people, and ultimately, against that Someone.
We prayed countless rosaries, both together and in feverish silence. All that thought, many prayers, and mumbling the names of each one for whom I pray at every excruciating step, was what got me there. St Francis of Xavier, of course, interceded for us. Here is a saint who inspired, and continued to inspire thousands of people to rise above their own comfort and dare to venture out to spread the love of God. My last prayer, I'm a little embarrassed to say, was for us (well, I know my company was ahead of me) to arrive there before the Mass starts. How glad I was to see the huge sign "Bienvenida a Javier (2006)". Little did I know that the castle of Javier, which is right now a basilica, was at least 2km further and up the hill.
But we made it.
And just in time for the Mass. I arrived at the grounds outside the Castillo at 4:30pm. I was truly surprised to see a mass of people. It turned out that groups from Madrid had come to celebrate a stage of the journey of the World Youth Day cross. So I was there, reliving memories from the World Youth Day in Cologne, although exhausted and could barely stand (thanks to the huge blisters in my feet and stiff legs). The bishops of Pamplona—Tudela and San Sebastian were there, and said homilies which clearly showed their zeal for souls— encouraging young people to not be afraid to open their hearts to Christ and to pray, concretely, for 3 people around us, to 'bring them up' in the paten at the Mass.
The Mass, although outdoor, was reverently celebrated and the people were absolutely pious. I couldn't stand up nor kneel for the consecration, although fortunately, I could see everything as I was situated just in front of the outdoor altar.
Another friend from Pamplona 'rescued' me at the end of the mass, held my arm as I limped down to where the car was parked. It was only 50-odd kilometres from Pamplona to Javier. The WYD Cross was brought to the chapel of San Fermin in Pamplona, where an overnight vigil was held. Close to 2000 people came to pray before it, reported the paper the next day.
I am glad to have gone, although am still suffering the aftermath with sunburnt lips, swollen legs and limps. This Spanish tradition speaks volume about the Spanish culture and deeply rooted Christian identity. I will go again, given the opportunity. And this time I hope to see the basilica, at least.