Mission Moment

Sarah Signorino '04, '12, MS '09, director, Mission & Identity

July 20, 2019

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Alice Zicari '13 and Matthew Cortese, SJ, a Jesuit who just finished his regency at Le Moyne College, recently led a group of 13 alumni from Canisius, Le Moyne, and Holy Cross on a centuries-old Christian pilgrimage called El Camino de Santiago. The group of 15 included participants from Buffalo, Syracuse, North Carolina, Arizona, Boston, Portland, OR, Portland, ME, and Canada.

The group walked 72 miles from Sarria, Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral contains the relics of Jesus’ apostle, Saint James the Greater. They stayed at pensions (small, simple guest houses) along the way.  Days consisted of waking up, eating a quick breakfast, departure around 7 a.m., stop for coffee or a snack, and arrival in the next town by lunch. After lunch, the group would check into the pension and spend the rest of the day relaxing and exploring the town.  On most nights, there was the opportunity to attend the pilgrim's Mass.  The group ended each evening with dinner and reflection. Every participant would also need to get two stamps in each town in their credential (the pilgrim's passport).  When the group arrived in Santiago, they turned in these credentials and each received a compostela, a certificate of completion of the Camino de Santiago.

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Front row (L-R): Lee Basil, Kathy Maguire, Erin Kelly ’13, Matthew Gorczyca ’13, MS ’15, Jack Rubino and Alice Zicari ’13; Back row (L-R): Bradford Wiggins, Jacquie Cronin, Matt Kersey, Marianne Kersey, Lynn Forbes, Rose Connolly, Sarah Chapell, Sarah Barrett and Matt Cortese, SJ

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Front row (l-r): Lee Basil, Kathy Maguire, Jacquie Cronin, Sarah Chapell, Erin Kelly ’13, Lynn Forbes, Marianne Kersey and Matthew Gorczyca ’13, MS ’15; Back row (l-r): Matt Cortese, SJ, Rose Connolly, Sarah Barrett, Jack Rubino, Bradford Wiggins, Matt Kersey and Alice Zicari ’13

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Pictured (l-r): Erin Kelly ’13, Alice Zicari ’13, Matthew Gorczyca ’13, MS ’15

Canisius alumnus and Assistant Director of the Canisius Fund Matt Gorczyca ’13, MS ’15 said he participated because “the experience was unlike anything I had ever done. I always look for new and different ways to enhance my faith life and I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would do just that.”

 Gorczyca reflected on the 10-day experience:

“The most challenging part was being in a foreign country and not being able to communicate with people to the degree I wanted. Simple communication like ordering food and getting directions was very difficult and I never wanted to come across as ignorant to others. But it was amazing to experience the camaraderie of people all over the world walking together and wishing each other well along the way. That alone took away the fears and uncertainty.

The most joyful part was the wonderful people I met along the way. From the group we traveled with (15 from all over the United States), to those from all over the world that we met while walking and at different cafes along the way, it was wonderful to be out of the hustle of American life and to enjoy the simplicity of what matters most. We would all reflect together, share the best and not-so-best parts of our days, share our intentions for the trip, and be honest, authentic, and open with one another. I don’t get to experience that in my everyday life, so just being able to connect with other people on this level was something that really allowed me to understand pure joy on a different level.

This experience has been so hard to put into words. But in trying to encapsulate what it has meant to me is renewing a strong relationship with God and what He has put in my path to experience and incorporate into my daily life. There were so many graces on this journey that made my experience special, most importantly having a renewed faith in humanity – strangers from all over the world who were so conscientious with one another and wished each other well. This experience meant a restored faith in our own human kinship and was a wonderful way of connecting with God. It was like the Spiritual Exercises in motion. I could feel God with me in every step, whether I was quietly reflecting on my own, or reflecting with a fellow pilgrim.”

Alice Zicari, ’13, campus minister at Le Moyne, reflected on her second experience walking the Camino:

“I think the best part about the experience was the group.  Everyone was so kind, open and fun!  We had a mix of ages, about half the group was in their 20s and the other half in their 50s and 60s, which created a wonderful atmosphere of inter-generational wisdom.  The Camino is so much more than the physical aspects of the walk.  With the large group we learned to lean on one another, share our stories, and grow closer to God through others. 

I walked part of the Camino the year before we took this group and it was an incredible experience, however, walking with a large group of alumni from different Jesuit institutions was even a richer experience.  I loved connecting with others through our shared Jesuit values, and hearing about how the universities were different and similar.  I also loved seeing how their Jesuit education impacted their lives after college.  

A moment that continues to stand out to me is the day I was walking by myself for a stretch of time and a man in front of me stopped abruptly and grabbed a handful of flowers and stood there and smelled them.  I thought, how often do we really stop to smell the flowers (literally and figuratively)?  After that, I followed his example and became more present to the beauty around us. 

This experience reminds me that we are not alone in our journeys.  No matter what happens, there are people around who are there for love and support.  Walking the Camino is a refreshing thing to do: to break away from everyday life and walk 72 miles over the course of a week with a group of strangers who become close friends.” 

The pilgrimage was part of the Road Less Traveled Seminar Series from the Canisius Institute for Global Engagement, and is one of the many programs offered to alumni and life-long learners. Upcoming trips include Cuba (January 2020) and Kenya (Summer 2020). If you’re interested in learning about these trips or a return experience to the Camino, please visit the Road Less Traveled Seminar Series website or contact the Institute for Global Engagement at ige@canisius.edu.

Sarah Signorino '04, '12, MS '09, director, Mission & Identity