October 15, 2023 Essay: Revelations from My Camino to Santiago

Oct 5, 2023

June 2023, I was walking along the northwest coast of Spain toward Santiago di Compostela, the endpoint of most caminos, transversing fascinating towns, charming villages, and beautiful beaches. The term ‘Camino’, meaning to walk or hike, is a pilgrimage to reach Santiago de Compostella, the capital city of the province of Galicia, at the Cathedral where the remains of St. James the Apostle lie. Since my first Camino, three years earlier, along a different route in Spain, I dreamed of completing this second pilgrimage, postponed because of COVID-19. I wanted an opportunity to pray, reflect, and reevaluate how I could best channel my skills and energy. I wanted to have some uninterrupted time with God, hopefully hearing Him talk to me about what He had in mind for me.

So there I was, fresh from a total hip replacement fourteen weeks before, with the surgeon’s “OK to proceed cautiously.” I walked for 17 days and covered 250 miles! Often alone but with the periodic company of many fellow pilgrims walking with the same aspirations and sharing experiences, hopes, and dreams. We exchanged pleasantries while walking and over meals. We often talked about essential lessons that are learned from walking a Camino. I recall, with exhilaration, a fellow pilgrim saying,” Everyone should do the Camino to experience how little is needed to make it through a day.” This is the sort of revelation experienced by many pilgrims during the journey. I now implement it in my own life. Although not hiking through Spain, I often reflect on what I need for “today” and pray that I will continue to avoid the distractions and encumberments that come from focusing on unnecessary “stuff” but instead will remain on a Camino-like path.

As an aside, my hip replacement was a discussion point for the other pilgrims until we met a man who had lost a leg in an industrial accident. He was walking his Camino while wearing a prosthetic leg. His answer to why? was “determination”. He said, “The Camino will test your determination, and if we can remain focused on reaching Santiago, we will be able to do likewise in our everyday lives.” I often recall his words and determination. I am stirred to imitate him when my own resolve is tested.

A Camino is not “a walk in the park.” It can be windy, cold, icy, muddy, uncomfortably wet, and oppressively hot. But all pilgrims who commit to the journey anticipate and prepare to travel under these conditions. They ignore the inconveniences and walk with the faith that they will encounter Him. Each day on the road, pilgrims can look forward to feeling at one with nature and the unexpected manifestations where Jesus reveals Himself.

Upon finishing a Camino, it is customary for pilgrims to attend a “Pilgrim’s Mass” at the wonderfully restored Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I went to mass on the day of the feast of St. John, the Evangelist, a very festive event throughout Northwestern Spain. It seemed as if the homilist knew of our experiences as he spoke of the eased burdens, finding consolation for disappointments, finding the strength to carry on when pain and discomfort became hard to deal with, and the joy of finally reaching the destination. He attributed all these things to the constant presence of Our Lord throughout the walk and in everyday life. Reminiscent of St. Mark’s Gospel 6:9, the homilist concluded by asking all pilgrims to go forth and share their experiences. Like the story of “The Road to Emmaus: Luke 24:13-35, ” He will walk with you.

I invite you to research the four major routes of the Camino. Find one that captivates your interest, then embark on this life-changing pilgrimage. Do not be concerned with packing perfectly or how fast you can walk. With faith and determination, you can reach Santiago. Buen Camino!

– Jacques Torchon, Parishioner & Chair, Hospitality Ministry