My first encounter with The Camino de Santiago was in 2009 when I read Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus by Fr. Dave Pivonka, T.O.R. My second encounter came this weekend when I saw the movie The Way starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
Tradition holds that St. James the Apostle preached the gospel in the westernmost part of Spain. After his eventual beheading in Jerusalem, his body was returned to Spain and buried in the small village of Libredon, now know as Santiago (after its most famous character). The full name Santiago de Compostela came from the miraculous appearance of a multitude of stars (estreallas) which appeared over the burial field (campo).
The fame of the town grew as pilgrims traveled there from all over Europe and experienced many miracles attributed to the intercession of St. James. Still today over 70,000 people annually hike the 500 miles from France to Santiago de Compostela. They come for a variety of reasons—some for religious reasons, but many have other inspirations. They come to seek personal meaning. They come for the adventure of it all. They come seeking emotional release from painful memories and experiences. They come to test themselves. They come as an expression of gratitude for blessings and they come seeking God’s help.
When I first read Hiking the Camino I thought two things: “That’s great” and “They have to be nuts.” Having seen the movie and the beautiful (but extremely arduous) terrain, I can only say they are better people that I! I can’t imagine the 500-mile mountain hike. But I do resonate with the journey and the seeking.
Fr. Pivonka made the trip in gratitude for his 10th anniversary of ordination as a Franciscan priest. Martin Sheen’s character was grieving the death of his only son who had died in a freak accident while hiking the Camino. Both met many colorful characters along the way. Both struggled with the physical toll of the hike. Both found peace and satisfaction from reaching their goal.
I can state with great confidence that I won’t be hiking the Camino. But I do find myself on the same pilgrimage. Whether or not we recognize it, we are all searching for that peace on a daily basis, the resolution of that struggle within ourselves to come to terms with God in our inmost selves. My own “camino” came in the form of a lengthy retreat based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. That journey lasted for ten months, working closely with a spiritual director. Now, over a year later, I find the journey continues as the lessons learned and the response to God’s personal call works its way deeper into my life every day.
The experiences of Fr. Pivonka and Sheen’s character, although different, still shared that search for inner wholeness. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book I encourage you to do both. And ask yourself where your own personal journey is leading. What motivates you? How is the voice of God breaking through to you?
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