Pilgrimage to Santiago shows ‘God doesn’t make distinctions because of disability’

Pilgrimage to Santiago shows ‘God doesn’t make distinctions because of disability’

Alvaro Calvente, center, flanked by his father, Idelfonso, to his right, and family friend Francisco Javier Millan, during a stop in their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. (Credit: Twitter El Camino de Alvaro.)

Alvaro Calvente and his father, Idelfonso, along with a family friend Francisco Javier Millan, are walking some 12 miles a day to try to reach Santiago de Compostela, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites, along the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James.

ROSARIO, Argentina – Alvaro Calvente, 15, defines himself as a young man with “capabilities you can’t even imagine,” who dreams with meeting Pope Francis and who sees the Eucharist as the “biggest celebration,” so he spends several hours a day repeating the words of the Mass to himself.

He and his father, Idelfonso, along with a family friend Francisco Javier Millan, are walking some 12 miles a day to try to reach Santiago de Compostela, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites, along the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James.

The pilgrimage began July 6,and  was originally intended to involve dozens of young people from Alvaro’s parish, but due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, they had to call it off.

“But Alvaro doesn’t forget his commitments with God, so we decided to go on our own, and then Francisco join because he loves Alvaro,” Idelfonso told Crux.

Alvaro is the seventh of 10 children, though he’s the only one doing the pilgrimage with his father. He was born with an intellectual disability stemming from a genetic disorder.

“We walk some 12 miles a day, but marked by Alvaro’s rhythm,” he said. The rhythm is slow, because Alvaro has “a mutation of two genes that allows him to manipulate people into, for instance, walking to Santiago,” but it’s also slow because the young man stops to greet each cow, bull, dogs and, of course, all the other pilgrims they meet along the way.

“The biggest challenge has been realizing and seeing that God does not make distinctions because one has a disability,” said Idelfonso over the phone, “on the contrary: He favors and cares for Alvaro. We live day to day and we thank God for what we have today, knowing that he will provide for tomorrow.”

To train for the pilgrimage, Alvaro and his father began walking 5 miles a day back in October, but they had to suspend the training due to the pandemic. But even without the proper preparation, they decided to go through with the pilgrimage with “the certainty that God will pave the way for us to reach Santiago.”

“As a matter of fact, we just finished our longest walk, 14 miles, and Alvaro arrived at the destination singing and giving out blessings,” Idelfonso said Wednesday.

They opened a Twitter account on the eve of the pilgrimage, and with a little help of Alvaro’s uncle, Antonio Moreno, a Catholic journalist from Malaga, Spain, famous in the Spanish-speaking Twitter-sphere for his threads on saints and holy days, El Camino de Alvaro soon had 2,000 followers.

“I didn’t even know how Twitter worked before opening the account,” Idelfonso said. “And suddenly, we had all these people, from all over the world, walking with us. It’s shocking, because it helps make God’s love visible: It truly is everywhere.”

They share several daily posts, all in Spanish, with their daily adventures, of Alvaro repeating the formula of the Mass and the three singing Mass songs.

In a July 10 post, he invited Pope Francis to his home for dinner.

“The day starts gray,” says a post of July 9, with a picture of a cloudy day. “But they’re nothing but clouds. Behind them, there’s an enormous and beautiful blue sky. If you believe your life is gray, don’t be afraid. Start walking, as we will do. We might get a little wet, but sometimes it’s necessary. Trust, walk.”

One from the previous day showed Alvaro about to cross a small hanging bridge, looking towards the camera: “There are obstacles in life, problems, difficulties… Do you think there aren’t in mine? But I know something that maybe you don’t, and it’s that God is a great engineer, and if you ask him, he finds a way for you to go through without getting wet.”

“It also helped us to realize that a person who is ‘weak’ to the eyes of the world, can help, give hope and show God’s love to all,” Idelfonso told Crux, his voice breaking with emotion.

Seeing the support they’ve received, they are now trying to raise awareness and “pay it forward,” opening a GoFundMe campaign, not for themselves, but for the Cottolengo of Malaga, the House of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, “a house with which we share much, as there, those who’re God’s favorites find a home and a family: Homeless, elderly, disabled people, who have nothing nor anyone.”

“The house lives only of providence, so we want to be angels of Providence with this campaign… will you buy some wings for yourself?” they ask, when promoting the campaign.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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