The Camino de Santiago is known in English as “The Way of Saint James” it is a network of pilgrims ways leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Cathe-dral of Santiago de Compostela situated in Galicia in nor-th-western Spain where tradition states that the remains of the saint are buried. This year towards the end of July Father Rafael our parish priest led a large group of pilgrims consisting of assorted ages and nationalities along one of the pilgrim routes known as the Camino Inglaise . The English route.
A personal Testimony.
“Good evening fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have to say that the walk of Saint James was an incredible experience, in-fact it was so amazing that those of us who participated are extremely eager to repeat the walk next year. This is not to say however that the pilgrimage was an easy feat by any means if truth be known it was quite an arduous challenge. We had to sleep on the floor during the night and in the day we were walked with heavy back packs attached to us come rain or shine whilst obeying the chief head of our assigned group , we had to eat whenever convenient ,get up with the larks and endure the pain in our feet, back, legs, knees and shoulders.
Even though we were confronted with these difficulties we did not want to give up on our spiritual quest we were determined to complete what we had already began this was not a means of madness but sheer dedication and a commitment to our faith.
The Camino for our group was an experience compliant with Christian life, when we put Christ at the centre anything is possible. Life itself is a journey which we travel with ups and downs although a little longer than the route were now undertaking.
Although at times challenging the Camino is a beauti-ful and exhilarating experience. In these modern times many people believe that our time here on earth should be as easy as possible without any bumps in the road but the true reality is that life at times presents us with many hardships. If you truly desire a more beautiful and valiant life than you have to overcome hurdles along the way em-bracing pain and sorrows just like Jesus. Through his own Passion the Lord will always provide us with renewal and salvation, when we finally reached our given destination on the walk all our suffering along the way was quickly for-gotten.
So how does the Camino embrace Christian life?
Here are three fundamental elements of the Camino.
- The guiding Cross
- The power of prayer
During the walk I carried the Cross with the aim to always walk in front of my group. The Cross in a sense was a gui-ding light so that the group did not stray. As I carried the Cross I was aware of distinct voices of people of all different ages around me. Somebody said to me “can you walk a little faster please”, others said, “ oh my goodness you are going far too fast slow down”, whilst others simply kept up with the pace without complaining. During the first few days those who were speedy afoot sometimes walked ahead of the Cross alternatively those who walked very slow often lagged behind, personally I was not happy with those who walked in-front of the Cross or strayed behind and I have a very significant reason for this, at the same time I felt sli-ghtly responsible for the blistered feet and tired faces of the walkers. So why did I feel slightly disheartened with the pace of the walkers, following the Cross is a sign of respect it is the principle sign of our faith and a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us. To follow the Cross is to follow in our Lord’s footsteps to eternity. In some sense I also felt responsibility when carrying the Cross but I could not please everyone and not all the members in the group could physically keep up.
It dawned on me that during the walk I could hear many voices but not the voice of Our Lord, the voice of Jesus is the voi-ce inside my heart, the human voi-ces surrounding me distracted me and I forgot how to simply listen to the quiet voice of Jesus.
The Cross is a sym-bol of Jesus the Good Shepherd who constantly
walks by our side, his love is so great for us that he does not even desire to lose one sheep from his flock. Jesus himself states in the Bible “ It is not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick”. Jesus leaves the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep, this is not because Jesus does not love those who are strong in their faith it is to teach those who truly want to live a life in Christ to love and gently guide those who are spiritually fragile. More than perseverance and force the group needed to work together with greater patience, Christian love and unity.
After these deep reflections I decided to put the distrac-ting voices of the group behind me and concentrate on loving each one in the flock equally and sincerely who had charged me with the important task of carrying the Cross. I prayed for all those walking with me especially the elderly and the fragile so that they would successfully reach their destination. From this very moment on my heart was still. As children of God, we have to realise that we are not sim-ply living for ourselves, there are many in this world who chose to simply please their own desires but if we really want to follow Jesus we have to avoid distractions and listen to the voice of God which alone leads to eternal life and truly speaks to the heart.
On the Camino each day we prayed before we set out on our journey, we attended the Holy Mass and we finished each day with a prayer of gratitude although we did not have a lot of extra time. However prayer is at the centre of our pilgrimage as it reminds us why we are walking the Camino as Christians in the first place. Prayer reminds us that walking the way of Saint James is not simply an athletic challenge or a form of exercise but a means of purifying the soul. Through prayer the Lord provides us with strength and hope. As saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians 4.13 “ I can do all this through Christ who gives me stren-gth”.
Many people participate in the Camino so that they can experience it with a group of friends but they also do it to make new friends and learn how to live together cordially as true brothers and sisters in Christ. Our group consisted of 84 people of all ages and backgrounds, however we all held the same goal in our hearts to walk together and reach the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Sharing our experience with others is one of the most important accomplishments during the walk, furthermore we shared meals together, rested together, prayed together, encoura-ged and consoled each other, chatted amongst ourselves and shared our happiness and tears. We felt like one big family and our support for each other gave us great joy and strength.
On the way home in the bus Father Rafael asked us what was the highlight of the Camino ,a lot of people said it was the very moment they reached Santiago this however was also the saddest interlude for many as it meant we would soon have to part company. Everything apart from God however even life on earth does not endure forever.
We can however incorporate the three fundamental things we embraced along the walk in our every- day lives, the guidance of the Cross, the importance of prayer and the company of others.
After this wonderful experience it would not present me with any qualms to walk the Camino again in the future however we must realise that we can only walk the path of life in this world once so we have to be careful what path we choose and how we walk it. Having the gift of Jesus in our lives graciously allows us to continue our lives in hea-ven with the greatest joy, therefore we need to make sure we do not stray from the chosen path and lose sight of him along the way.