I’ve been walking, over a number of years, the pilgrim path from St Jean-Pied-De-Port in France over the Pyrenees mountains into the North of Spain, ultimately heading to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, the burial site of Saint James the apostle. The journey is known as the Camino which means the way or the path. It has been the route for millions of pilgrims over several centuries. Thousands of people are on this path every day, or certainly were, up until the COVID pandemic arrived with us.
I have been travelling with an eclectic mix of wonderful people that changes slightly every year. Some people can’t return and new ones come along to fill the spaces. Perhaps a bit like our life journeys. A friend of mine, who first invited me to partake on this journey, told me that the Camino is not something you decide to do, it is something you are called to. At the time I didn’t give the comment too much credence but today I firmly believe it was a call for me.
The long daily walks of the Camino are a physical challenge, often in places with beautiful scenery. Somewhere in this place of struggle and beauty it opens you up, it opens you up to yourself and to others. When you walk with others, the long hours give you a freedom to speak and also an ability to listen to people’s stories. Everyone has a story, some very dramatic, some very inspirational, some very difficult and all unique.
Walking alone gives you an opportunity to contemplate life. On one of these hot days walking the dusty gravel paths led me to think about the similarities of the terrain that Jesus would have walked on in the Holy Land. In some way I became aware of his interest in everyone. I became aware of the judgements I made about people without knowing their stories. I realised how I could be so wrong about people because I simply didn’t know them. Jesus knows everyone’s story and loves us individually and uniquely. It’s possible for us to love everyone regardless of where they come from, their faith or whatever makes them different from us. If we allow ourselves to get to know people, we don’t have to agree with them, but we can love them. It’s also important for us to remember that Jesus may not be agreeing with us or with some part of our lives, but he loves us none the less. It was the last thing that Jesus asked us to do, “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)
The Camino is a gift and if you are called, I suggest that it will make your life much richer by answering that call. Buen Camino.
Brian is a father to six adult children, a house builder and works with the Matt Talbot Prayer Society at Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry.