By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
A frigid, blustery wind signals the arrival of another cold front, dramatically dropping afternoon temperatures and sending most north Texans looking for the warm confines of their homes. The erratic Texas weather, though, doesn’t deter two St. Cecilia Catholic School administrators from lacing up their walking shoes and setting out for a brisk trek through the Oak Cliff school’s neighborhood on Jan. 19. That’s because with each step, the two women move closer to their goal.
St. Cecilia principal Lydia Torrez and assistant principal Estela Valdez walk with a purpose. The two are training as they ready for a pilgrimage to Europe over spring break to follow in the footsteps of one of the 12 Apostles.
The duo plans to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago, a journey that takes hikers to the reported burial place of St. James the Apostle.
“We are called to evangelize, and this is what St. James was doing. We will be on that same journey, talking with pilgrims and people along the way,” Torrez said. “We want to walk in solidarity with all who are suffering throughout the world and pray for healing. We also want to connect with God through nature and the pilgrims we meet along the way.”
The famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, also known as the Way of St. James, winds along several trails through portions of France, Portugal and northern Spain. The portion St. Cecilia’s administrators plan to travel over a six-day period in northern Spain ends at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. There, believers can visit what is said to be the tomb of St. James, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Spain and Portugal.
“Just thinking about being able to do this, I am filled with a lot of emotions,” Valdez said. “This is going to be an incredible experience — one filled with faith and joy.”
While their journey gives them an opportunity to grow in their faith, it also serves another purpose. The women are raising money to help renovate the parish school’s grotto.
“We want to raise money for the renovation to our school grotto so that those who wish to pause for prayerful moments can enjoy this sacred time within our community…and in their own backyard,” Torrez added. The hope is that the work can be completed this summer. “It’s not just a school grotto, but something for the community.”
Valdez said that the idea of doing something for the community is one of the aspects that inspired her to take part in this effort.
“I feel like this can bring everybody together. We can show that anything is possible when the community comes together,” Valdez said. “Having the community see all that we will be accomplishing during this, I hope that is the message they all understand.”
The two have been discussing plans to walk the Camino de Santiago for more than a year. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed original plans. At the beginning of the current school year, though, the administrators decided it was time to put their plan into action. The plan now is to depart March 10.
“We began training together at the start of the school year,” Torrez said. “Only a few people have known all along what we are planning to do.”
An announcement is planned for Catholic Schools Week.
“We want to announce it during Catholic Schools Week to bring awareness and attention to the school, to give Thanksgiving for the school, and to really share the idea of hope and prayer,” said Torrez, who noted that many people still struggle with the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had. “Through this, we want people to know that none of us stand alone. We all stand together. We are all members of the Body of Christ. As we make the journey on El Camino, we will be in prayer and we will be in solidarity with our community back home.”
Growing In Faith
Educators at heart, the two women plan weekly video blogs of their training and experiences on the Way of St. James so that they can share them with the school community.
“With each week, we are planning a theme so they are not just seeing us train, but they are also seeing the diligence that it requires, the solitude that we will be experiencing, the prayerful moments. We want them to understand the purpose behind all of this,” Torrez said.
Torrez said she hopes by sharing their experience with students and the school community that they can also grow in their faith.
“I want to show the children what my relationship with God means to me — how it is the center for me — so hopefully they can take that and allow God to be the center of their lives,” she said. “I don’t think there is any greater lesson we can share.”
Valdez said she hoped the students learned to embrace their faith and trust in God.
“If you set up a goal, trust in God, trust yourself and work hard to accomplish that goal, everything is possible,” Valdez said.
To prepare, the two women have been walking, hiking and cross-training. Valdez personally also has been participating in races, having recently completed a half-marathon. The duo has even joined the school’s student running club for practice.
“It’s a great experience getting to work out with the students,” Valdez said. “The students really enjoy it.”
Juggling their work and family lives, the two women continue to train as often as possible, expecting to walk 10 to 17 miles a day while on El Camino. Torrez said she understands it will be rigorous, but also rewarding.
“It’s certainly something that has always been on my bucket list,” Torrez said. “Never did I dream that I would be able to do this with a colleague and in honor of St. Cecilia’s school community. That just makes all of this so much more special.”
Those interested in following the two administrators on their journey of faith or wanting to donate to the grotto renovation project can do so by visiting stceciliacatholic.org. Make donations through the “Patrons Program” link.
Find more stories highlighting Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas in observance of Catholic Schools Week 2022 in the Jan. 28 print edition of The Texas Catholic.