Submitted by Sophia Elacqua

   Our pilgrimage to Spain? My favorite day was spent in Manresa and Montserrat in the Catalonia region near Barcelona. In the morning we arrived at a baroque-style church built into the side of a rugged mountain that housed the cave where St. Ignatius lived for eight months as a hermit. The cave is a small natural grotto but magnificent beyond words. The man-made entranceway was illuminated by stained-glass windows that reflected pinks, yellows, greens, and blues onto the marble, mosaics, and bronze angels. I was in awe at the beauty of such a humble yet majestic place.

   For me as well as St. Ignatius, the cave provided refuge and opportunity to reflect while connecting with God, far away from daily struggles and the troubles of the world as we celebrated Mass. I felt incredible peace and it was something to ponder that St. Ignatius had written his spiritual exercises in this same tiny underground chamber.

   Following Mass, we made our way to Montserrat — the “serrated mountains” overlooking Barcelona. Our journey up the winding narrow roads felt as if we were on a mission to a secret location and I had no idea of what to expect. Once we reached the summit we continued our journey by foot, to the Cross of San Miguel. Tears filled my eyes as we witnessed a most extraordinary panoramic view of Spain. I felt inspired by the natural beauty that surrounded me as I gazed into the valley. We prayed the rosary together as we sat near the precipice along the towering hillside. I felt humbled, but empowered, knowing that my life had purpose and meaning; and this was just the beginning.

   We walked down the mountain toward the basilica and as I entered the massive doors, I felt time pause as I marveled in the immense beauty inspired by our faith. Overlooking the altar is one of the most famous wooden Black Madonna statues in the world, Our Lady of Montserrat. We ascended a staircase that brought us high above the altar where this statue stands. The Virgin holds the infant Christ and an orb that was exposed to allow pilgrims like myself to touch it as we offered a prayer. Her ornate throne is decorated with Venetian mosaics. The small but impressive apex is full of jewels, brilliantly colored tiles, and awe-inspiring detail. We descended the stairs to a candle-lit area where we were given the opportunity to pray for our personal intentions. The beauty of the Basilica at Montserrat revealed a strong devotion to the Catholic faith of previous generations and I feel blessed to be able to experience such moving places in my lifetime.

   During our pilgrimage many of us were often exhausted and cold; we had sacrificed many daily comforts. If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that in order to become the best version of yourself you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Sacrifice isn’t easy, but it’s worth it and can change your life for the better.

   Sophia Elacqua, 24, is a freelance videographer.

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