In Your Midst

RETURNING TO THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO

Spring 2001

In This Issue:
I can recall that day during Lent of 1999 when I decided that I would take a real vacation and travel to a country I had often dreamed of visiting — Spain. Knowing that this kind of impulsive decision-making might not occur with me again, I planned to travel for as long as I could get away and to take in as much as I could.

Included on my wish list of things to do in Spain was walking on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, legendary burial place of St. James the Apostle. To be honest, I had little knowledge of either the legend of St. James (the patron saint of our parish church) or of the pilgrimage route. The more I studied and read about the Camino, the more excited I became over the adventure of it all. But as my plans began to come together and I realized that I would be walking the Camino during the last Holy Year of the millennium and arriving in Santiago de Compostela on July 25, 1999 (The Feast of St. James), it became clear that I was about to participate in something far greater than I had originally imagined.

pilgrims' boots and walking staffs
Pilgrims' dusty boots and walking staffs line an entrance to a hostel on the way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The phenomenon of the Camino de Santiago is held as a treasure by the people of Spain but is shared too by the tens of thousands of Europeans that walk and cycle its route every year. I can remember watching the televised events leading up to the Feast of St. James, a weeklong celebration that I could only compare to our Fourth of July here in the United States, and being swept away by the history and tradition that I had somehow managed to stumble into. In that summer of 1999 I added myself to the growing list of non-Europeans that have fallen in love with that ancient pilgrimage route. And what started out as a one-time trip has now turned into a yearly retreat for me.

I discovered that there is much more to the Camino than the path or the trail that your boots trod. For while the path and destination might remain the same, the people and experiences you have on the Camino will always be different. The faces you see, languages you hear, weather you walk in, and even the food you eat while on your way contribute to this experience. So while I know where I will ultimately be arriving, I have no idea what will happen along the way. Although our paths may all lead to the same place, you never know if a person you encounter on the Camino is walking for sport, cultural, or religious reasons. There are seemingly an infinite number of experiences to have and see on the Camino. This is what makes me want to return each year.

St. James Cathedral - Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela, the legendary burial place of St. James the Apostle

I returned to Spain again in September 2000, walking the same route I had walked in 1999. I was comforted by those familiar things I had encountered the year before — the sound and feel of the gravel under my boots, the smell of the air on a cool morning, the churches I stopped to visit, the fountains where I drank. But I was amazed at the number of things I had not noticed or experienced the first time. There are so many sights and sensations to take in there.

There are some experiences that are too rich to assimilate in one visit. Such is the case of experiencing Santiago Cathedral. There is the rush of exhilaration when you stand on the summit of the Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy) and eye the spires of the Cathedral over the horizon for the first time. There is the feeling of accomplishment when you walk into the Plaza del Obradoiro to stand at last in front of the Cathedral. And of course there are the feelings — too many to describe — when you enter the Cathedral with your fellow pilgrims.

I cannot image ever getting tired of gazing at that amazing building from any angle. I could spend hours staring at the intricate details of its facade from an adjacent café or viewing the splendor of the High Altar from a pew. So many things to take in. So many things to keep bringing me back.

Stuart Ling has been accompanying the St. James Cathedral Choir and Pilgrim Tour to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Stuart Ling is a parishioner, a member of the RCIA team and an adult altar server. He is a graduate student in the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University.


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