Just about everybody has heard of the Camino de Santiago. Sometimes, it seems just about everybody but me has walked the Camino. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there, but I’m thinking maybe it could inspire my own pilgrimage this summer.
Also known as the Way of St. James, the Camino is a widely popular Christian pilgrimage taking walkers across different routes to arrive at the cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Pilgrims have made this journey for over 1,000 years, and the end point, the cathedral, is believed to hold the remains of the apostle St. James.
Over 200,000 pilgrims a year walk the Camino, and many people write blogs (like my friend Father Tom), present slide presentations to groups (my friend Margaret) or write books about their journey. Irish Jesuit Father Brendan McManus wrote about his Camino journey from the perspective of Ignatian spirituality. His book “Redemption Road” recounts the pilgrimage that helped him heal from the suicide of his beloved brother.
There’s even a movie — Martin Sheen starred in “The Way,” a 2010 drama about a father’s journey to complete the Camino of his dead son.
As I write this, another friend is on the Camino. Unlike travelers 1,000 years ago, Father Scott records his pilgrimage via Facebook, so we see daily pictures of quaint Spanish villages and uneven paths, and hear updates on how the priest’s partial knee replacement is faring under the stress of hiking miles a day.
Before he began, Father Scott told friends to send their prayer requests, and each day, in a methodical way, he is posting when and for whom he is praying. Likewise, friends are praying for his journey and encouraging him via Facebook.
The Camino challenges the pilgrim to simplicity and physical endurance; travelers stay at huts or small inns along the way, eat simple local foods, move at their own pace and occasionally battle loose dogs or bedbugs. Some people bike, and an older friend of mine had a van that picked his party up and took them to a hotel each night. And that’s OK. It’s not a competition, but a personal journey.
I’ve been thinking about pilgrimage because of an interview I did with some college students who are going to Anchorage, Alaska, as missionaries this summer. They’ll be at parishes and youth gatherings sharing the good news.
One summer long ago, I was a young person who spent a summer in Kotzebue, a Native Alaskan village above the Arctic Circle, doing catechetical work. I know how exciting and life-changing such a journey can be.
When I asked one of the young women what motivated her to volunteer for this work, she told me, “I had promised to give the summer to the Lord.”
What a beautiful thought. What if each of us, on our unique journeys, made the same promise?
I will not be walking the Camino this summer, and perhaps you will not either. Nor will I be venturing far from home on missionary work.
But imagine how we could construct our own summer pilgrimage. What physical challenge could we attempt as part of a spiritual commitment? What daily practice could we embrace to ensure that we give the summer to the Lord? How could we pray daily for the concerns of our friends and our world?
I’m rereading Father McManus’ book, and I can almost smell his early morning cafe con leche. I’m soaking up Father Scott’s daily posts. I’m walking each day. And I’m challenging myself: What’s my summer pilgrimage?
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