This is as good a place to start as any: Why take time away from work and family to head to Santiago de Compostela. I mean, there are plenty of ways to spend a week’s vacation, including:
- burying your feet in the sand at the nearest beach.
- If you want to spend a week hiking there’s always section hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.
- If it’s Europe and backpacks you want, making your way through Europe, you can find a plethora of hostels–youth or otherwise–in any major European city.
- For visiting sites considered holy to Christians, there are vastly more important Christian sites in Israel/ Palestine, Rome… even Turkey.
But why Compostela? A week after standing in front of the Cathedral built to house St. James’ remains, I can’t give a sound bite answer. Not yet, maybe never. But, like many things in life, my interest began with a story.
Eight years ago, I was part of a clergy group that made pilgrimage to Israel/ Palestine. One of the participants was a campus ministry. As we were getting to know each other, she recounted he story of having taken a group of college students to walk this as-yet-unknown-to-me trail in Northern Spain. She described what has now become familiar and endearing to me–the cash economy, albergues aplenty, cafes in almost every hamlet, and the aphorism that “the Camino provides.” When I asked for an example she shared the story of a college student coming from a privileged background–the student was well-traveled upon entering college. As such, this student felt like they knew everything there was to know about world travel–especially Europe.
One of the throw-back parts of the Camino is that, by and large, the Camino is a cash-based economy (more on that later). With this knowledge, begin to paint the picture of this well-travelled teenager from whom every scenario could be solved by paying with their credit card, of which parents paid the bill. This expectation crashed into the reality of the Camino when it came time to pay. I honestly don’t remember if it was for a meal or for lodging. At any rate, this student learned the lesson of the Camino provided early on. All along the way others not in her group, having heard her surprise and desperation when her cards were not accepted as payment, paid for all of her expenses. And when an ATM finally appeared along their way, none of her benefactors would accept payment. They simply said, “Buen Camino!”
I was hooked.
I had to find out more about this Camino thing. I mean, what was is about that place and journey that moved people to that kind of generosity to give–and humility to receive!
For years timing was never right–not enough time, not enough money, language barriers, family responsibilities… the list goes on and on. But when my best and longest-serving friend (since 1987!!) was ordained a priest in May of 2018–his 3rd career–I told him on the morning of his ordination “let’s celebrate your 1 year anniversary of ordination in Santiago de Compostela.”
And we did.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing lessons learned on The Way and reflections as the journey continues back at home. I’ll also… probably early on… share the resources that were helpful to my preparation and what, if anything, would I do differently.