“Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Somewhere along my journey as a Catholic, I learned about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known as the Way of St. James. El Camino is a walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a city in where St. James is buried in the cathedral. In the middle ages, pilgrims would walk to Santiago from their doorsteps, spending months or even years making this pilgrimage. El Camino has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and today pilgrims start in many locations, but the most popular route is known as the Camino Frances and it begins in St. Jean Pied de Port on one side of the French Pyrenees. The Camino Frances is about 500 miles long and it takes about a month to complete.
In the summer of 2012, I set out to walk El Camino de Santiago, setting out from St Jean Pied de Port on July 4 and arriving in Santiago a month later. I walked El Camino out of a desire to grow in my faith, to know God more, and to become the person God created me to be. I believed and hoped that spending a month walking through Spain to the tomb of St. James would draw me closer to God, wear away some of my imperfections, my selfishness, my insecurities, and my fears. I prepared, planned, and prayed that the experience of pilgrimage would open my mind and my heart to the plans that God made for me, and I was not disappointed.
El Camino itself is pretty simple and pilgrims follow a rhythm of life each day. You wake up and have a quick bite to eat before you begin walking. After a few hours, you stop & rest, then resume walking. Eventually, you find a place to stay for the night, shower & wash clothes, take a nap, go to Mass, eat again, sleep- repeat. Because the Camino has a slower pace of life and because there is a lot of quiet & time to think, as well as real physical suffering, it is impossible to live life as you did at home. In our normal lives, we can distract ourselves from our fears, insecurities, loneliness, inconsistencies, doubts, and problems. It is easy to become numb, avoid issues, and to live a life on the surface. It’s much harder, if not impossible, to do that on the Camino. The distractions are gone, silence fills the space of noise, and you are faced with your real self.
Before I set out on this journey, I had hopes and expectations, but even my highest hopes could not have anticipated how thirty days of walking and living a simple life and appreciating the smallest things would affect who we are. I hope I never forget the beauty we encountered walking across the Spanish countryside, but most of all the real friendships that sprung up so unexpectedly, the true caring and sacrifice and vulnerability that we have shown one another. We suffered and struggled, but we were never alone. God speaks to us in so many ways, and sometimes He shouts at us, but mostly He speaks with a small whispering sound. He changes our hearts and our minds and without us even noticing, something beautiful has happened.
Six years have passed since that summer, but I’m still on a pilgrimage to my heavenly home. As I reflect on my experiences today, on the Feast of St James, I’m reminded to bring the simplicity, prayer, reflection, and awareness of the beauty in each day into my life. I persevered in walking 500 miles through the summer’s heat, by the grace of God, and the fruits and graces of that pilgrimage are still unfolding.
By: Jessica Nayden, Program Coordinator for the Catholic Service Corps