My trekking app listed the last two days of walking as a very solitary walk. It was spot on. In two days covering 40 miles I saw four bicyclists and met four Portuguese women walking from Lisbon to Fatima, who happened to stop in the same wonderful restaurant where I stopped to eat.

Few of the Portuguese that I have met speak substantial Spanish, French, Italian, or English. Hence, our conversations are quite limited. Speaking another language does wonders for opening up doors and helping one to explore a culture in a deeper way.

In two days I did not meet one pilgrim actually walking on this trail. On my second day on this “Camino variant” or alternative route, I decided to increase the spiritual focus. So, I downloaded on Audible Johnny Cash reading the entire New Testament. I listened to the complete reading of the Gospel of Matthew, which took over two and a half hours. I would highly recommend it.

There’s a lot of repetition in Matthew that eludes readers or listeners who only read or listen to a chapter or less at a time. Twice Jesus admonishes against divorcing one’s wife or marrying someone divorced in this gospel, and Jesus also performs the miraculous feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000 in Matthew.

Thirty plus years ago, I interviewed Johnny Cash while working as a journalist. He spoke in that wonderful, gravely voice. I felt like I was listening to God. His voice seemed to rise from the bowels of the earth.

I also downloaded Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “Christianity: The First Three-Thousand Years.” It’s a monumental, eye-opening history of Christianity. So, my solitary slog across Portugal took on a deeper spiritual dimension. Each of us is the steward of our own spiritual journey. No one will deliver it to us on a platter.

This second day’s journey took me through the most biblical landscape that I’ve seen outside of the Holy Land. The hills were full of olive trees – some quite ancient – surrounded by countless stone walls meticulously erected and which must have taken countless hours to construct. I felt like I was in Israel.

Finally, I arrived in Fatima – once a village where three young shepherd – Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta – ages 10, 9, and 7 witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary, who instructed them to return on the thirteenth day of each month when she would reappear to them. The final apparition was reportedly witnessed by 50,000 people.

Today, there is an enormous complex that resembles a Catholic Disney World full of basilicas, chapels, outdoor venues that can accommodate well over 100,000 people and gift shops galore. But there’s a beautiful sacred and peaceful spirit here. It reminds me of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican complex in Rome and Lourdes in the south of France. One doesn’t have to be Roman Catholic to have one’s spirit touched here and know that this indeed is holy ground.

With love and prayers from Portugal,
Marek