On my second pilgrimage in Spain – this time from Tui to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino Portugues – I became aware of the importance of this prayerful walk as one in which I was not alone, even though I walked it alone.
Certainly, there was the communion I felt with God’s beautiful creation all around me as I walked under sheltering trees of eucalyptus and pine forests, through quaint villages along country lanes, friendly villagers urging me on with the words, Buen Camino (Good Way), bordering fields ripe with the fruit of harvest, doves cooing, roosters crowing, and dogs wagging their tails.
And there was the sense of common purpose with other pilgrims, whether they were walking in front or behind me, walking along with me, or sitting by the trail resting.
This was also my experience on my walk along the last 115km of the Camino Frances, but this pilgrimage held more meaning for me because it more closely traced the path left by the Apostle Iacob (St. James) when he walked and preached the Gospel along the Roman roads through what was then Iberia, from the south to the northwestern coast known as finnesterre (end of the earth).
This path along the northwestern coast was also taken by two of his loyal disciples when they returned his martyred body from Jerusalem to his final resting place in Santiago De Compostela.
In the towns along this pilgrim path, you could experience the legacy of this apostle through the people who live there. They filled local churches, kept fresh flowers on their wayside crosses (cruceiros), and in many other ways showed that they still followed in the footsteps of their beloved Santiago.
It struck me how our lives can interact in ways that speak of our valued principles (our morals and ethics) beyond words and a moment in time. As I walked, I was encouraged onward by the footprints left by those who walked before me. And with each step I took along the trail, I left a footprint that showed a pilgrim’s progress to those who followed.
Even when there were no other pilgrims in sight, I would come upon the traces of their prayerful walk through the rocks left on waymarkers to mark a moment of prayer for someone, crosses made of small branches left on the path or weaved into fences, a worn pair of shoes, a note to other pilgrims, or a memorial with the photo of someone who was in their prayers.
In the quiet recollection of my journey, I became aware of how this path was formed by pilgrims following for nearly two thousand years in the footsteps of the Apostle who followed in the footsteps of Jesus – and how this pilgrimage stretches forward in time and beyond that path throughout the earth.
I encourage you as you walk your Camino, to reflect on the footsteps you are making, the path you are taking, and the Buen Camino we can make for one another.