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12-camino

A place of sanctuary for those who are lost and searching

The Camino inspires those of Faith, those of no Faith, and those struggling to hear God, Fr Michael Kane writes.

Last Sunday I returned from Santiago de Compostela, after 11 memorable days walking a section of the famous Way of St James. This year we covered the 130km between Belorado and Carrión de los Condes, taking in some breathtaking open countryside and sleepy rural villages.

In fact, this is one of the unique gifts of the Camino. It allows you to see parts of this beautiful landscape which otherwise lie hidden away from the bustling tourist areas of Spain.

 

Welcoming the stranger

These small hamlets are far from the big cities and towns and exist solely to serve the constant stream of pilgrims who pass through in the hope of finding a simple meal and a bed for the night. In fact, the local people we encountered showered us with fine Spanish hospitality. They have grown accustomed to welcoming the stranger, a tradition which has been carried on by generations of families who run the small hostels and cafes.

The Camino experience is also a great opportunity for fraternity. Of course, it is important to find time to walk on your own, at your own pace, accompanied by moments of silence and your own personal thoughts. A fruitful pilgrimage must include those more solitary moments of self-reflection and prayer.

Even the Lord Himself found space and time to be away from the crowd, to find some solitary place to be on his own.

 

Friendship

The Camino is, however, also a deeply communal and connected affair. Each step along the way is an opportunity to get to know the people who walk beside you. You learn their stories as you walk the same path together. The walk can be for many a moment to open-up and share; a cathartic experience of speaking and listening, often among complete strangers.

This was especially true for our own small group of eight Scottish pilgrims. We lived together, ate together, prayed together, got sunburn together and indeed got blisters together! Sharing the journey together you learn about the stories of your fellow pilgrim on the Way, and you also become accustomed to their motivations.

 

Pilgrims from near and far

Over the years on the Camino I have met many different pilgrims from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, and I have been privileged to hear many personal testimonies. These encounters have taught me that everyone walks for a different reason. Some, like ourselves, are compelled by Faith, on pilgrimage and journeying towards the tomb of the Apostle St James.

We walk with prayer and hymns as our companion. We meet in the village churches each evening to celebrate the Pilgrim Mass and to receive the special Pilgrim Blessing. The Camino, for us, is an act of Faith. We offer up our journey (and our sprained ankles!) to God in the hope that He might bless the intentions we carry.

 

Pilgrim intentions

Many pilgrims walk with a particular, personal intention in mind. Their journey is the fruit of a promise. They are perhaps offering the sacrifice of their walk for someone dear to them who is in need, or for someone whose earthly pilgrimage has come to an end.

Others are quite open about more secular motivations. Many people, young and not so young, sign up simply ‘for a good walk,’ trekking to improve their physical health, or to be ‘at one with nature’!

 

Outdoor adventurers

In fact, increasingly the Camino is playing host to these outdoor adventurers and new-age types. Some choose to walk while others prefer the comfort of a bicycle saddle. In a nod to its medieval roots, some even dare to travel by horseback!

There is one final group of pilgrims that you will meet along the Way of St James who should not be forgotten. They have set out with a very noble intention. These are the pilgrims who have embarked on a journey of discovery; shaky pilgrims in search of Faith in the midst of uncertainty and doubt.

 

Rekindling Faith

Many will openly speak about searching for that elusive ‘something’ which they hope will rekindle the fire of Faith in God. It is the enduring hope of many on the Camino to find God in the midst of this upward struggle; that in the ancient paths which lead to Santiago God’s footprint can be found.

For me, this is a most noble intention. It shows such an openness and generosity and optimism in finding God. Many searching pilgrims live with a sincere desire to meet God and to begin a new journey with Him when they return home to normal life.

 

Life-changing

For many the pilgrimage is a heroic act of Faith and a life-changing experience. As they arrive into the bustling streets of Santiago de Compostela many have been changed by the experience of walking with God again.

Such conversions show that the Camino is generous to those who are struggling with their relationship with God. The paths of the Camino do not judge or close doors or cruelly dismiss. Its open paths are the place of sanctuary for those who are lost and searching.

It is a poignant lesson to all of us who encounter the lost and searching pilgrim in the Church. Are we as open and generous as the paths of the Camino? Are we as gentle with our fellow pilgrims who want to find God again in their lives?

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