A Brotherhood Pilgrimage at Camino of St Joseph

Long walks have become a part of my routine since moving to Australia.Or at least an aim I strive to achieve my daily routine. It’s a delight to explore the neighborhoods by foot, with footpaths offering a convenient walking connection from one block to another.

Within the confines of Marsfield-Macquarie Park, there are almost infinite number of routes to explore. I can take the eponymous Macquarie route, which connects home, the university, hospital, and shopping mall that bears the name. Or extend westward via Vimiera Road towards Eastwood and loop back via Balaclava Road. Or take the entire stretch of Waterloo Road that extends from home to its end at Halifax Street Park across Wicks Road, some 3.8 kilometers—or 4,571 steps—away.

Reaching 10,000 is a daily goal, so failure to do so, especially when I work from home or on a rainy day, can be a source of frustration for an unmet target.

As a result, when Catholic men from various Sydney parishes invited me to participate in the Camino of St. Joseph, an overnight pilgrimage, it was an opportunity to go beyond the intended two days.

On one hand, it reminded me of the epic Seven Bridges Walk (and a pre-event attempt) I joined in October 2020, a hike that covered 28 kilometers on a rain-soaked day while crossing notable bridges in the city such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Anzac Bridge.

On the flip side, it also resembles the traditional Visita Iglesia Lenten activity; we are also visiting churches along the way. This spiritual journey honors St. Joseph, as a role model for men as devoted fathers and husbands who lead their families closer to God. It also fosters community as we walk together and meet new friends, and deepens faith through prayer and reflection as we experience Christ’s presence through the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at churches we pass by.

This year’s itinerary starts at Austral, a suburb southwest of Sydney, and will conclude in Chipping Norton, where our overnight walk will cover 24.8 kilometers. From our starting point at St Anthony de Padua in Austral, we will walk and stop at the following churches: Holy Spirit Parish in Carnes Hill, Good Shepherd Parish in Hoxton Park, St Therese Parish in Sadleir-Miller, St Francis Xavier Parish in Lurnea, All Saints Parish in Liverpool, and St Joseph Parish in Moorebank. For ease and convenience, participants parked their cars at the terminal stop close to St Joseph’s.

I am joined by fellow first timers Tito Jing Tapiador, and his son Marco, Jason Sanga, Kim Delos Santos, Art Alviso, and Oliver Dofredo. Camino veterans Raffy Reig and Dean Dejoras gave us an overview of what to expect, and we gladly joined in the spirit of brotherhood. I know it’s hard to do a trek this long alone, especially on a chilly autumn night. Overall, the event drew 600 or so participants of diverse backgrounds, many of whom wore outfits that bore their identity (St. Kevin in Eastwood, Croatian emblem) and languages I heard (Portuguese and Arabic).

There were familiar faces, too. Fr Marek Woldan, a Polish priest who until recently served the Our Lady of Dolours Parish Chatswood, where I served as a member of the choir, was one of the mass presiders.

I expected this walk to test my endurance. While my activities are usually done during the day after a restful sleep, this one will be done at night after a day at work. But I am primed and ready to go, and so are my companions, I suppose.

The event began at a chilly 8 p.m. on April 26th with a mass at St Anthony de Padua in Austral. I always consider it a blessing to attend mass at a new church, something that I’ve been doing recently (Lane Cove, Gladesville). The church was packed, and we barely had space to sit inside, while the rest of the participants spilled over at the entrance, and further into the church grounds. During the service, I couldn’t help but notice the deep devotion brothers have to their faith, manifested in their gestures: deep reflection, receiving communion, and gestures towards other participants. It was indeed a blessing to be here.

By the time the mass concluded, I was starting to yawn, my body prompting me to finish the day and go to bed. But not now, I pondered. Being an early riser, I also hit bed early. But this annual event should be an exception.

As the nine of us from Missionary Families of Christ NSW convened as a team, we were all welcomed to a large photo opportunity, and a drone video camera hovered above us to film the entire voyage. Our next stop is the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Carnes Hill, some 4.5 kilometers or a good hour away. Different groups of four took turns carrying the statue of St. Joseph in the procession, while certain groups carried with them a large banner of religious iconography. The group prayed the rosary along the way.

The organizers did a good job putting up a team to guide participants with navigation beacons, such as a huge floodlight that provided visual cues on a dark stretch of Lowry Avenue. I would later find out that they also offer rides for those whose limbs could not handle the rigors of the long walk.

As we walked past the dusty, semi-paved road, the clear skies led me to reminisce about the Blue Mountains stargazing experience, and my awe and amazement about astronomy led me to occasionally share my utmost interest in this topic with Tito Jing. In no time, we reached Holy Spirit Parish in Carnes Hill, with legs starting to feel strained by the slight incline leading to the church. A welcome table filled with snacks and water bottles awaited the pilgrims, before they entered the church and joined the communal reflection.

With each break, our group agreed to take a collective selfie, while resisting the cold and the temptation to sleep. Next stop: Good Shepherd Parish in Hoxton Park, a relatively shorter leg just 2.8 kilometers away.

Along the way, I had a chance to catch up with Oliver, the bassist for our music ministry, with whom I had attended the Live/Incubus show a few weeks prior. We recalled the albums of our favorite Filipino bands of the 90s: Eraserheads’ Cutterpillow (Fine Time was my favorite track), Rivermaya, Wolfgang, and The Teeth, and shared my encounter in Hong Kong with a member of Weedd (remember the song Long Hair?).

His interest in ghost stories ignited the group’s recollection of past real-time experiences with the supernatural  and continued on with Netflix recommendations of Mike Flanagan’s films such as The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass, and The Fall of the House of Usher. It might sound odd for us to chat about this topic while on a religious pilgrimage, but it was one of the ways to keep us awake as we overcame our bodies’ tremendous urge to shut down for the day. Fortunately, none of us had weakening legs, or at least we all managed to maintain an air of bravery as we prepared for the next round of selfies.

Continuing with the journey, this time an hour-and-half walk northwest to St. Therese Church in Sadleir, passing through the residential blocks and a few green reserves of Hoxton Park and Miller. This is one of the nice perks of neighborhood walking (on a daytime basis): being able to view different dwellings helps me imagine what my ideal home looks like. I am sure Babes would like this one on the left, which has a small structure yet offers a generous space for gardening. To me, such an experience offers relaxation to the mind, knowing that despite the housing crisis that followed us from Hong Kong to Sydney, there’s still hope for home ownership.

This 6.2 kilometer stretch of pathway crossed a portion of Hoxton Park Road and underneath the M7 Motorway, on which I am like a curious toddler, asking all the random questions: Why is such a road called a motorway when vehicles from cars to trucks can pass through?

Some of us had a hearty meal, but Tito Jing and I only had Big Mac for dinner, and the last of its supplied calories were burned ten kilometers ago. Fortunately, Raffy pulled out a variety of snacks, while Oliver brought out a pack of potato chips, which he graciously shared with us. We did not feel hungry, but these nibbles provided respite from exhaustion and kept us awake.

It was past 1 in the morning as we continued to walk behind the main group of participants, Some stray individuals couldn’t resist the call of nature and sneaked past the wooded areas of the route for instant relief. Good thing there’s no sign that says “Bawal Umihi Dito.”

Upon arrival at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Lurnea, the group remained upbeat, despite the fact that they could scarcely locate a vacant spot to contemplate in the church. But still manage to We were relieved to find a coffee kiosk after being without a hot beverage all night. Dean, Kim, Tito Jing, and Jason accepted the offer, while the rest of us conversed casually with fellow pilgrims, particularly Filipinos from different parishes and acquaintances from prior Camino journeys.

Raffy reminded the group that we were near the site of last year’s MFC Echo Conference, which brought back pleasant memories.

Departing from St. Francis Xavier Church, we were approaching the homestretch of our pilgrimage. Leg fatigue has set in, but the overall pace of the walk has also slowed. On the road, a van run by volunteers offering a lift to those who wished to proceed to the terminal stop did not appear to have takers. I guess everyone was still fit enough to take the final leg, no pun intended. But sooner, Raffy’s friend, an Asian man with two boys in tow, took the offer, and deservedly so. Children at those ages might be too young to endure the entire length of the journey.

At this stage of the pilgrimage, we’ve approached Liverpool, with busier streets to negotiate, as opposed to the quiet blocks we observed in the majority of our walks. I am now in a familiar neighborhood, with All Saints Parish just a stone’s throw away from Westfield Liverpool and a block from Raffy and Art’s residence. Historically, the oldest Catholic church in Australian mainland, established in 1842, was located opposite the present-day All Saints Church. At this stage of the pilgrimage, I observed that the original number of participants has dwindled, and I suspect many were still left behind, or too exhausted to continue.

I later found out Art and Raffy, took advantage of the close proximity to their homes and made a short pit stop before returning to the group.

I felt the longest road in the entire route was the way from All Saints Church in Liverpool to St. Joseph’s Church in Moorebank. The long stretch of Newbridge Road seemed endless, and even crossing the bridge over Georges River, felt like an eternity. Needless to say, we felt fatigued but remained engaged in our conversations. The final turn at Nuwarra Road confirmed we had all conquered the night and finished the pilgrimage, as the clock struck past sunrise. Due to a slight delay in participants’ arrival, the mass scheduled for 6am was moved to 6:30.

The choice of St. Joseph Church as the final stop of our pilgrimage was deliberate and a fitting culmination of honoring St. Joseph.

A meal of excellent buns, fried eggs, and hotdogs satisfied our grumbling bellies as we shared friendly banter with a Filipino Tito from Eastwood/North Ryde, who praised our group for getting together for such a great cause. I did not feel hungry at the time. I just missed my bed and was ready to fall asleep in no time. Unfortunately, I had to catch a noon train to Newcastle with my wife, so I will most likely spend the rest of the day snoozing off the Newcastle Interchange train rather than cuddling with my pillow.

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