Mississauga woman makes pilgrimage to inner peace

Mississauga.com – Aug 22, 2012 – 3:50 PM, Elora Crawford

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Pearl Kisbenyi succeeded in shedding two things on her six-week journey on foot: much of her admittedly overweight backpack — and spiritual baggage.

On July 21, the 56-year-old Clarkson resident set out on the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, a 900-kilometre trek across part of Spain. When she returned home last Thursday (Aug. 16), she was lighter and more enlightened. “Before I left my son said to me, ‘Mom, I know you don’t know what you’re looking for, but I hope you find it.” “And I did,” Kisbenyi said.

Kisbenyi, who works for the Peel District School Board as a special needs teacher, said she learned to make peace with things in her life she cannot change.  Above everything, she learned acceptance. “Just before I got to Ponferrada, (the medieval city famous for its iron cross where pilgrims often deposit a stone, symbolic of the weight of one’s sins), the sentence came to me.  It was, ‘I don’t have to carry pain, I just have to carry memories,’ ” she said.

No stranger to tragedy, Kisbenyi lost her sister when she was 10 and living in communist Hungary with her family.  Seven years ago, she lost her husband to cancer.  Just last year, her mother died. “There are deep scars in my life, tragedies that I never really dealt with,” she said. The reconciliation of her past, however, didn’t come without some pain, sweat and tears. During her trek, completed by thousands of pilgrims each year, she’d cover 25 kilometres on foot each day, starting at 5 a.m. and walking until 1 p.m.

She’d arrive at the albergue (pilgrim’s hostel), her feet sore and blistered and her body drenched with sweat. But she was always greeted with hospitality. There’s a certain respect that surrounds pilgrims, she said.
Kisbenyi chose to walk alone for the majority of her journey. Walking alone, she said, meant there were no distractions and she could start and complete a thought. Although she walked the Camino in solitude, she was never lonely.

Her fellow travellers included Koreans, Germans, Dutch, Irish, Australians, Brazilians, Canadians and Americans. “You know that people will help you when you are in need, and your solitude is respected without any questions,” she said. Now home, her blisters healed over, Kisbenyi has found peace with her past. Moving forward, she plans to pare down her earthly possessions. “We cling on to things we don’t need,” she said. “It makes our minds, and our houses, cluttered.”

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