According to the Jesuit Constitutions, all Jesuit novices are required to complete a month-long pilgrimage “without money… begging from door to door … to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging,” a lesson in complete trust in God. Jesuit Julio Minsal-Ruiz’s pilgrimage began when he and two other novices were dropped off in the town of Dajabon on the Haitian border and told to find their own way to Río Limpio in the Dominican Republic.
With no money or cell phones, only a few items of clothing, a water bottle, a prayer book and a letter of introduction from the novitiate, they were directed to put everything they had in the hands of God and surrender themselves to the experience. “That’s what pilgrimage is,” Ruiz said. “An experience of bare, almost nakedness of humanity without technology or big-city commercialism.”
The novices moved from village to village, relying on the kindness of strangers. “Many times the poorest people in the poorest towns were often the people who were the most generous,” Ruiz said. “They would move mountains to make things appear, like putting food on the table.”
In exchange, Ruiz approached each community with an offer to work. “Our experience was to work alongside them and experience the work of the rural farmer,” he said. “It was very humbling.”
On the last leg of the journey to Río Limpio, Ruiz and his fellow Jesuits were following a path through a forest in western Dominican Republic. When the path ended abruptly at the top of a mountain, the novices found themselves in the forest during a thunderstorm, at a loss for what to do.
Ruiz’s mind whirled with thoughts of hopelessness, even death, and the very real possibility that they would never be found. “When the path ended, we really kind of lost everything. We had no hope of anyone finding us. It was a very critical life-or-death situation.”
They decided to follow the river and eventually found a farmer who pointed out the way to their destination. The novices arrived three hours later, greeted with warm food, dry beds and the company of their Jesuit colleagues.
Ruiz realized that even though he had despaired, he’d been determined to complete the pilgrimage and had found hope in the process. “Even the path we first thought we had was taken from us. The clothes were lost, the food was gone, but somehow God was there leading us. All these things we thought were ours, but actually they’re things He has given to us. Everything we have is a gift, and that’s the main objective.”
Read the full story of Ruiz’s pilgrimage experience at Xavier Magazine.