This fall, Peg and I will be joining about thirty other Episcopalians from all around the Church in a ten-day trek across Northwest Spain known the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, or “the way of St. James of Compestela”, or more simply "The Camino."
The pilgrimage will take place on October 5 -14, 2019, and is sponsored by the United Thank Offering and the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana. It combines portions of walking the Camino with visits to UTO grant sites in Madrid and Northwest Spain.
Each year more than a quarter of a million people walk all or part of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, with the number of Pilgrims steadily increasing since the mid-1980’s. This resurgence has been credited to many factors, including the fostering of faith communities and connectivity between pilgrims as they journey on various treks around the world. You may have read about it in books or magazines, seen television travelogues or perhaps you've seen the 2010 Emilio Estavez film starring Martin Sheen called “The Way.”
In the Middle Ages people began to walk The Camino to go and venerate the shine and relics of St. James the Greater, the apostle and brother of St. John, one of the “sons of thunder.” James is the patron saint of Spain.
During the Middle Ages, the Santiago de Compostela was considered the third most holy site in Christianity, behind Jerusalem and Rome. There are Anglican Centers at these other two holy places, and this new one will serve as a vital place that will embrace ecumenism, outreach hospitality, youth development, spiritual formation, and interfaith dialogue.
It is traditional for the pilgrims to end their journey with a Holy Eucharist at the Church of Camino de Santiago de Campostela in Galicia, Spain, where it is believed that St. James the Apostle is buried. (You may have seen pictures or videos of this church… it’s the one with The Really Big Thurible suspended from the ceiling and which takes six people to swing as it fills the church with clouds of incense!) But we won’t end our journey there but someplace else… someplace new on this ancient route!
The United Thank Offering and our Anglican Communion partner church, the Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain, is opening a hospitality center and chapel as a place of rest and refreshment for pilgrims of all faiths and traditions, and it will be here where we will wrap up our journey by dedicating this center.
Protestants now outnumber Catholics in walking the trail. Up until now, only Catholics could receive Communion at the mass in the Cathedral. With the opening of the Anglican Centre, many others will now have the ability to celebrate the Eucharist at the conclusion of their journey, which will benefit many pilgrims in a deep way.
A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, an extended physical prayer. Walking on a pilgrimage is a kind of prayer, an offering, that involves the whole person, body, mind, spirit. It is at once a trip going from one place to another, and it is also an experience where the walk itself is the purpose and the prayer.
It is the custom of those who take the journey to bring back with them a scallop shell as proof of their journey. But the grace of the pilgrimage is found in the going, not just the arriving. We will be going to new places, experiencing new sights, discovering new truths, raising new questions as we walk. And, if my trial runs are any indicator, we will be asking more mundane questions along the way, as well: thinking about where we’ll eat, how our feet and our joints feel, and making sure we have enough water.
Peg and I have been training for this journey for a little while now. We are walking every day, and at least once a week, we take a "big walk" on farther and farther distances to get ourselves in shape. We've bought our day packs, our walking poles, and are breaking in our walking shoes.
The funny thing is that I have already learned something in this process.
Before packing a single bag and with having my passport stamped, I am already on the pilgrimage! I have found myself thinking, praying, settling into a new routine. My perspective on daily living has shifted a bit… certainly I am organizing my time around the dates I will be away, but more than that, I find myself asking “is this another step on the way?” and more and more often “what is God showing me in this moment?”
So, while I am looking ahead to the journey, I find myself being drawn more and more to the present. I found myself thinking these words written by the late Fr. Henri Nouwen, who was a spiritual director, writer, as well as a priest. He wrote:
Praying means, above all, to be accepting of God who is always new, always different. For God is a deeply moved God, whose heart is greater than our own. The open acceptance of prayer in the face of an ever-new God makes us free. In prayer, we are constantly on our way, on a pilgrimage. On our way, we meet more and more people who show us something about the God whom we seek. We will never know for sure if we have reached God. But we do know that God will always be new and that there is no reason to fear.
In this strange mix of the mundane and the holy, we are already learning that in our baptisms, in our daily walk with Christ, we are able to meet and know God more fully as the Holy Spirit animates our walk. True, everyday things might distract us from God; at the same time (if one has eyes to see), they might be pointers to deeper grace, love, and faith.
My prayer as a pilgrim, is that the formal pilgrimage will enliven and inform this daily, more ordinary, walk with Jesus. And my prayer also is that you, in your journey with Jesus, find him more and more as God goes with you in all you do every day!
You may donate to the work of the Anglican Centre on the Camino here.
Written for the September, 2019 newsletter of Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA.