The Ignatian Way: Building a responsible and sustainable tourism destination

The Ignatian Way: Building a responsible and sustainable tourism destination

Pilgrims along the way. Photo credit: J Lluís Iriberri

Josep Lluís Iriberri, SJ

The Ignatian Way  emerged as a source of reflection on the values of responsible tourism during the 7th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations: Barcelona-Catalunya early this month, with Turismo Sant Ignasi, the tourism school of the Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, Spain hosting the event.

Responsible tourism is defined as having the following characteristics: “minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts; generates greater economic benefits for local people, enhances the well‐being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry; involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances; makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and to the maintenance of the world’s diversity; provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, with a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues; provides access for physically challenged people; and is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.” Source: Cape Town Declaration during the Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, 2002

Tourism has the ability to revive the sense of history and awakening the collective memory through tangible and intangible heritage that lies beneath layers of past centuries, bringing forth a new pride in the local population. We are waking up that Ignatian pride in the Spanish lands through the Ignatian Way, a project of the Society of Jesus that recalls the pilgrimage made by Ignatius Loyola in 1522 from Loyola (Basque Country) to Manresa (Catalonia) in Spain. Started in early 2011, the Society knew that this project will require a sustained responsibility for the future pilgrims from Loyola to Manresa, and for local people and the environment as well. The aim is that by 2022, this pilgrimage is consolidated to attract pilgrims from around the world, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the conversion of Ignatius.

The Ignatian Way, a 650+ kilometre pilgrimage passing through five regions in Spain. Photo credit: J Lluís Iriberri

The Ignatian Way is a route of more than 650 kilometers that spans five regions in Spain and can be done in 30 days, coinciding with the 30 days of the spiritual experience of the Exercises. This is an essential element of our pilgrimage: to walk during the four weeks and recreate the route that Ignatius undertook in his Exercises and go through a process that implies an internal shift, a movement, that puts us in an inner pilgrimage, apart from the external. The pilgrim Ignatius of Loyola started at a critical time in his life where he had to make a decision. The pilgrimage changed his life and his subsequent projects helped change the world. The Society of Jesus wants to offer this dynamic and its transforming potential to the pilgrims of this century through walking along the Ignatian Way.

It is a walk to transform, to know oneself, to renew faith, and rethink personal and social values. But it is also walk to discover the others, the brothers and sisters along the way, especially those who live in five very different regions in Spain with their diversity of culture, religious and local festivals, monuments and churches, food and wine, mountainous and deserted landscapes – a huge amount of treasure that complement a wonderfully spiritual experience for the pilgrim.

When I started designing the itinerary of Ignatian Way, I relied on information as described by Ignatian historians, such as Father Juan Plazaola, SJ. Ignacio’s autobiography allows us to reconstruct the route that Ignatius took in 1522 – from Loyola to Aranzazu to Navarrete to Montserrat and finally to Manresa. From these references it is not difficult to trace the path that Ignatius took along the Camino Real at that time.

Although the current pilgrim does not find the road signs that indicate “Ignatius of Loyola slept here,” in hundreds of places you can be certain that Ignatius prayed in that church, walked beside the river, went up this hill, and contemplated sunrise and marveled at the horizon from the path. I also used field surveys from Michael Pastor, SJ and Jaime Badiola, SJ, who drew the most pristine stretches of the route. The ongoing collaboration and support from Christopher Lowney, who will soon post the first Ignatian Way’s guide, was also essential.

The website contains all the necessary information for the pilgrim such as 27 planned stages for the experience, maps, interesting facts, and practical information on accommodation. Since March 2012, over 200 pilgrims aged from 16 to 70 years old have reached the Shrine of Saint Ignatius in Manresa, and many more reached some parts of the way without going through the entire pilgrimage. For now, the tourism impact on the land and the local communities along the road is not excessive, but will increase as more pilgrims take part.

Shared landmarks, Ignatian Way and Camino de Santiago. Photo credit: J Lluís Iriberri

We considered the beneficial proximity of other important pilgrimages in Spain such as Camino de Santiago, Santo Toribio de Liébana, or the Holy Cross of Caravaca in our initial study of potential pilgrims forecast. Religious tourism and pilgrimages are well developed in Spain, and adding the Ignatian Way as another pilgrimage option will decongest the other routes.

The universal Ignatian family is also an important niche for Ignatian Way pilgrims. There are millions of people worldwide studying or have studied in Jesuit universities and schools, or are part of lay movements or religious congregations under the Ignatian tradition.

We are discussing this activity from town to town, contacting the administrative and religious authorities to explain the project and to receive their suggestions, getting their involvement and commitment to the Ignatian Way development in their area. So far, the project is received positively as they recognize that this type of tourism is not only environmentally-friendly but also contributes to the local economy.

We also promote a “slow travel” pilgrimage, where slow time is essential for living the experience meaningfully. One does not need to be in a hurry, one must enjoy every moment. This puts more time and interest to visit places with heritage value in the local villages and towns along the way. For example, in the small town of Verdú, the birthplace of St. Peter Claver, SJ, pilgrims not only sleep in the sanctuary, which is now a refuge for pilgrims, but can also visit the wineries and discover the traditional local agriculture.

There are other many examples along the Way. We have to experience and discover everything for oneself. This is what we say in Responsible Tourism, that pilgrims will obtain a real “sense of place” to help them live an experience with those who live and stay along the Way.

The Technical Office of the Ignatian Way is working with this vision of responsible tourism that integrates environmental and social concerns emerging from tourism activities and engages with other stakeholders and institutions to continue building a pilgrimage that is responsible and sustainable.

Josep Lluís Iriberri, SJ, biologist and theologian, is a professor at TSI-Turismo Sant Ignasi, Universitat Ramon Llull in Barcelona, Spain, and Chief of the Technical Office of Ignatian Way. In 2011, he was commissioned to design and promote the Ignatian Way and continues to focus on this task. He may be reached through his email:


One thought on “The Ignatian Way: Building a responsible and sustainable tourism destination

  1. Dear Fr. Iriberri,

    My name is Paul Donovan and I am currently the principal at Loyola High School in Montreal. I will be on sabbatical next school year and I was hoping to walk the Ignatian Way. I have been invited to participate in an International conference on Jesuit education starting on November 2 in Manresa. In my ideal world, I would finish the walk on Nov. 1. Is it possible to do the walk alone? I have done the Exercises once before and would like to use the walk as a new opportunity but I would be doing it without a director. Any help, both practical (who I should contact, when I should leave… ) and or other advise would be appreciated.


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