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Mission Reflection: Walking in a Saint's Footsteps Toward New Insights

02/28/2020

On the campus of a Jesuit college or university, it’s hard not to notice St. Ignatius Loyola.

Retreatants gather for a moment of fellowship on SLU-Madrid's Loyola Ignatian Pilgrimage Retreat with the hills of Spain's Basque Country in the background. The students and retreat leaders are circled around a standing leader who is giving them instructions.

Retreatants gather for a moment of fellowship on SLU-Madrid's Loyola Ignatian Pilgrimage Retreat with the hills of Spain's Basque Country. SLU-Madrid photo

But, while his approach to spirituality and one’s relationship to God and others is central to a Jesuit education, not many students get to walk in his footsteps by journeying to the places he spent his life.

For Sophomore Luca Zocche, an international business major at Saint Louis University’s campus in Spain, SLU-Madrid, a pilgrimage to the places the saint lived, studied and prayed has helped him gain insight into his own life and studies, while giving him the opportunity to form deeper bonds with other students and with the founder of the Society of Jesus himself.

Giving Students a Chance to Connect Deeply

The Loyola Ignatian Pilgrimage Retreat, offered by SLU-Madrid’s Department of Campus Ministry each semester, takes students to Spain’s Basque Country to retrace the saint’s life by visiting and praying at important sites in his life story. Time for reflection and fellowship are also central elements of the journey.

Pilgrims leave Madrid on a Friday morning and travel through the weekend. The journey is a retreat and aims to bring students closer while giving them an opportunity to take time out of their busy lives and to reflect on their experiences studying abroad, their educational journeys and other matters that might be on their minds, Paloma Gómez de Salazar Cordero, SLU-Madrid counselor and campus minister, explained.

The journey includes a stop at the Holy House, where St. Ignatius was born, among other sites.

A site in Spain's Basque Country including towers and a view over a town on a clear day with green hills in the background.

SLU-Madrid's Loyola Ignatian Pilgrimage Retreat takes students to places St. Ignatius Loyola walked and prayed each semester. SLU-Madrid photo

“Our greatest wish is that the students with us get to know God a little more, and discover how they are loved by Him,” Gómez de Salazar Cordero said. “‘Love with love is paid,’ and once you feel this love, you need to give yourself to others. St. Ignatius knew it, and that was what he experienced in the Chapel of the Conversion.”

In this reflection, Zocche shares his journey and invites others to “live life to its fullest for the fulfillment of God.”

Retreatants from SLU-Madrid gather at the Holy House, birthplace of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

Retreatants from SLU-Madrid gather at the Holy House, birthplace of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. SLU-Madrid photo

Luca’s Pilgrimage in His Own Words

I am a religious person and have visited many religious places and birthplace of saints. As we started this pilgrimage, I was also going through some hard times with some work I had, so I thought that it would be the perfect occasion to visit Saint Ignatius – that it would clear my mind and maybe make me realize something different about myself. Which it did!

Before this trip, I didn’t know much about St. Ignatius other than about his foundation of many educational institutions which exist today, like SLU in St. Louis, and SLU-Madrid, where I study currently.

The most meaningful experience that I had was when I was in Saint Ignatius’s chapel for Mass. There was a feeling of Catholic unity, faith and joy all in the same room at the same moment.

Such a feeling really had an impact on me as the trip was in the midst of midterms, and a time of sadness as I was questioning at that time what my identity as a person really was.

As I was in the chapel reading the first reading, I thought about how I could feel all that unity, joy and faith in the presence of everyone on the trip, after only two days of getting to know each other.

Live life to its fullest for the fulfillment of God.

A fellow pilgrim's advice to Luca Zocche

I would have never thought that we could be brought together by St. Ignatius as I never realized that we Catholics together can be so positive, joyful and trustful as we were then.

That sense of being open as you go to Mass and prayer will always bring you closer to God and to the truth of who you are and what you really value in life. With this in mind, I also am motivated to try out the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius one day soon.

The pilgrimage impacted me in the way that I saw I could live the way I wanted to be, stay with the right people and find the true love of my life with the power of God.

I learned about how we can never truly stop learning, to trust God and trust those around us better as they are more than likely the only ones who will ever care about you fully.

During this trip I really learned about my deeper self and how to live with myself giving me these new key things to take action on within the next couple of months.

If you have a chance to go on this journey, go! It isn’t only a religious trip but a trip of unity and understanding of oneself.

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Connecting more deeply with one another and with God through a journey retracing the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is an experience that SLU-Madrid offers students each semester. SLU-Madrid photo

At the start of the trip you use St. Ignatius as an example of who to be, and then use him as a role model on who you wish to be. Then you ask more questions about yourself, which in turn brings you into a deep friendship around you.

By the end of the trip you trust not only yourself more but also a deeper friendship then other friendships that you might have ever had.

To gain friendships and an understanding of the person like this might take years but instead on this trip it took a matter of days showing us how St. Ignatius can truly bring us together.


Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications