Pastor’s letter, July 31, 2016: St James y El Camino de Santiago
This past Monday we celebrated the Feast of St. James. My thoughts went back to France and Spain and the over 500 mile walking journey I made to Santiago, Spain some years ago. I started in a place called Le Puy, France, and walked for about 40 days to St. James’s tomb in Santiago. From about the 9th century it became a very popular pilgrimage destination from all over Europe and today the route enjoys a renewed interest and is called the “Camino” to Santiago.
St. James was the brother of St. John and, with Peter, made a trio of close companions of Our Lord. In Scripture we see them being invited by Our Lord to witness the Transfiguration as well as the Agony in the garden. Tradition has it that James went to Spain to preach the Gospel, and then returned to Palestine where he was martyred by King Herod Agrippa in 44 AD. His mortal remains were later brought to Santiago, Spain.
When I finally made it to Santiago I could hardly believe that I had actually made it. It seemed so far away and so much had happened; getting my body with a pack over 570 miles of ground; all the people and places I had experienced along the way. The blisters were terrible the first hundred miles and that led to tendonitis for the next hundred. The people I met, mostly from France and Germany, were amazing. We were all heading to Santiago and helping each other along the way.
The main topic of conversation was our physical condition. “How are your feet?” was the question. I heard it said that on the Camino it is not “if” it hurts, but “where” it hurts. I have never received so much advice on how to care for blisters and deal with tendonitis. Mostly, the advice was to slow down – take it slow. A German named Wolfgang from Bavaria, taught me by example. He said people call him “escargot” because he was going so slowly. My ailments forced me to slow down and we became friends on the trail because I was moving at his speed.
Upon reflection, walking the Camino is very much like life compressed. Santiago represents heaven, the destination or end of the journey. We journey through many places with many people, all of us hopefully heading to the same place. And we help each other out along the way. The people along the way become fellow pilgrims, friends. The details of the journey are constantly unfolding and are often rather unexpected. We journey together helping each other to get to heaven, our final destination.
Many lessons were learned on the Camino, but I will never forget what Wolfgang, aka “escargot”, taught me: go slowly, let things unfold and develop and don’t worry too much about forward progress. It makes the journey much more pleasant and less painful.