An Allentown Diocese seminarian, halfway through his eight years of seminary training, decided to take a little summer break.
So he walked 180 miles through Spain.
Anh Do Mai spent three weeks this past summer hiking the Camino de Santiago, a world-famous pilgrimage trail, as a way to give thanks, he said.
“I had just finished my first four years of seminary,” the 25-year-old said. “I wanted to do something to give thanks to God for His many blessings on me.”
Hiking 15 to 20 miles per day, starting at 5:30 a.m. and finishing by 1 p.m. to avoid Spain’s brutal summer heat, gave him plenty of time in silence to think and to pray.
“I really feel like these last four years at seminary have been the best four years of my life,” Mai said. “They have deepened my faith tremendously.”
He walked with two seminary friends, Dan Monastra of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and John-Peter Zappe from the Diocese of Paterson, N.J. The three have done previous backpacking hikes together.
It was the beginning of August, and Mai had just finished the Institute for Priestly Formation program, in which time is set aside for the seminarian to develop a more intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and for an immersion into what it means to be a diocesan priest.
The walk gave him time to reflect deeply on that program, he said, and on his desire to become a priest to serve the people of the Diocese.
Mai first got the idea to walk the Camino from one of his teachers at Muhlenberg High School in Reading, he said. The teacher had done the hike herself, and she talked about its spiritual benefits.
On one day, Mai said, he and his travelling companions came across a priest who was travelling with another tour group. The shortage of priests in that region of Spain meant that there had not always been a daily Mass to attend.
“We spontaneously had Mass with them,” he recalls. “That priest was preparing his people for a difficult journey by sharing with them the Word of God. I could see it in their faces. It was a really inspiring moment.”
In the photo: Seminarian Anh Do Mai, along with seminarian friends Dan Monastra of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (center) and John-Peter Zappe of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, thought to be the burial place of the Apostle James.