This series of articles was compiled by Johnnie Walker for the Confraternity of St James and with their kind permission they are reproduced here.
Last year over 100,000 pilgrims walked or rode on horseback or bicycle to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain. Just less than half were Spanish, the others coming from 114 different countries around the world. The pilgrimage is truly international.
The Spanish word “Camino” means “the Way” and each of the Caminos to Santiago have a different name. To pilgrims the word means both the route they take and their own inner spiritual journey. Here four pilgrims share a little of their own experiences of their Camino.
Jean, aged 28, from York
I had one week off work and I wanted to do something different. I had heard of the Camino to Santiago and so I decided to walk the 110 kms of the Camino Inglés from one of the ports in the North of Spain where pilgrims from England arrived by boat and walked down into Santiago. It took me five days. The scenery was wonderful and the local people were really friendly and helpful. I felt completely safe as a woman walking alone. Just putting one foot in front of the other in very lovely surroundings cleared my mind of everyday things. Time to think and pray. It brought a new kind of peace. I can’t wait to go back.
Marta, aged 62 from Madrid
In Spain we call becoming retired, “Jubilado” or “Jubilated” in English. It is a word I like! It had always been my ambition to follow in the footsteps of millions of Spaniards and make the pilgrimage to the tomb of Spain’s Patron Saint in Santiago. Retirement gave me the opportunity. I took 5 weeks to walk the Camino Frances (778kms) from the border of France across the Pyrenees through Spain to Santiago. I managed the walking easily, more so with every day that passed. I met many other people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities and it is an experience which has changed me for the better. There were challenges of course but with God’s help and the help of my fellow pilgrims I reached the destination. That was a real feeling of Jubilation!
Father and Son, Steve 45 and Paul 17 from Jacksonville, Florida took 3 weeks to walk the last 250kms of the Via de la Plata, the 1000 kms route from Seville in the South of Spain
Though I masked it as best as I could, I boarded that plane gripped with fear. “What have I gotten us into?” I wondered. “Will we be safe?” I slept poorly the first couple of nights precisely because of those fears, but the Camino led me to confront some fundamental spiritual issues in my life: the fact that I am not in control of circumstances, that I need to be more faithful in my daily life, that I need to be a better steward of the environment. I also grew closer to my son in lasting ways. It is my hope that, in 25 years, he will look back on our Camino as one of the building blocks of his spiritual life.
I remember vividly what I was thinking as I stepped onto that airline flight to Spain: “Why did I ever agree to leave home for three whole weeks just to walk on some stupid trail in a foreign country?” This is also what I was thinking for the first few days of actual walking. However, one day, when my dad and I were standing on a small bridge in a beautiful section of forest, it suddenly hit me. There was no place in the world I would have rather been than right there at that time, not even at home in my own bed. And even now there is still nothing I would rather have spent those three weeks doing.
How do I find out more?
From the Confraternity of St James in the UK – the largest and oldest association of pilgrims which celebrates its 25 anniversary this year. www.csj.org.uk