For twelve centuries, people of faith have walked the path known as the Camino de Santiago
to visit the place in Galicia, Spain where the remains of the apostle Saint James the Greater are believed to be buried.
In April and May of this year 2022, I had the opportunity to walk a good part of the Camino Frances, the part of the walking path that begins in the French Pyrenees and leads all the way to the grave of St. James . There are many other Caminos coming from all different directions, all leading to Santiago.
Walking the Camino is a very social activity. You meet up with pilgrims who walk at the same pace you do, then you fall behind or they go ahead and the next day you make a new set of friends. Many days however, I had the need to walk alone and in silence.
I met many interesting people on the Camino, but one of the most interesting ones was Father Bruce, a Catholic priest from Iowa. I met him the day before the Camino reaches the Cruz de Ferro, a pivotal place on the Camino where pilgrims are invited to lay down their burden symbolically by depositing a stone they have carried in their packs all this way.
Father Bruce told me he wanted to offer a Eucharist at sunrise at the Cruz de Ferro, and I half-joking offered to be his Deacon. The next morning, many of us hiked up in the dark to Cruz de Ferro. Father Bruce did a wonderful job at this Eucharist. During the sermon, we were invited to share words that described this experience of pilgrimage for us ‘Life-Changing’ ‘Hopeful’ ‘Inspirational’ ‘”Grounding’ .
When it came time for the Gospel, Father Bruce handed me his cellphone, and when I began to read I realized he had selected John 14: 6 where Jesus says :’ I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ . I was almost too choked up to finish the Gospel. Here was Jesus reminding me that, as I walked the Way, Jesus is the way.
I learned many things while walking the Camino. I learned not to get discouraged when road signs told me Santiago was still 790 kilometers away. I learned how to accept feedback from my fellow pilgrims with openness and humility. I felt the power of being on a Way where all are heading in the same direction, West towards Santiago . I felt the spirit of all those who had gone before on the Camino, reflecting on how we invoke the spirits of all those who have gone before us in the Community of Saints as we commemorate one of our spiritual ancestors each day on the Church calendar. And I reflected on the vows of obedience that we make at Baptism ‘to work for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of each human being ’ as I tried to obediently follow the twists and turns of the Way . And I kept seeing surprises and blessings on the way, such as meeting butterflies, salamanders, lizards and snails who seemed to be on their own animal Camino, and coming upon a fountain that instead of pure water dispensed wine to all the pilgrims.
Lest all this sounds a bit serious, there were plenty of opportunities for fun and celebration on the Way : eating wonderful pizza with new friends, soaking my feet in an ice-cold fountain, playing the recorder in church cloisters, and of course, the required half liter of red wine with dinner almost every day. As Pilgrims say : ‘No Vino, no Camino!”.
At the end of my pilgrimage, I met another visionary priest in the city of Santiago. Her name was Mother Anna, a priest from the Diocese of New Jersey who now lives in Santiago and was recently officially installed as the Anglican Pilgrim Missioner in Santiago. Over a dinner of Pulpo Galego,a Galician dish of stir fried octopus and potatoes, Mother Anna shared her vision of an Anglican Pilgrim Center in Santiago where all Anglican and Episcopal pilgrims could rest and be welcomed. Mother Anna’s vision, I believe, deserves all of our support.
I am hoping all Deacons, when they have the opportunity could walk the Camino at least once in their lifetime. It is a life changing experience. The Camino invites us to lighten our burdens (and yes, it is a great way to lose weight!) . The Camino invites us to find clarity, direction and purpose, as St. Augustine once said ‘solvitur ambulando’ – ‘things are resolved as we walk.‘
The Camino is described in great detail with all the same stages, routes and sometimes even the same inns as today in a manuscript from the twelfth century called the Codex Calextinus.
In the Codex is found the following prayer :
‘God, You called your servant Abraham from Ur in Chaldea, watching over him in all his wanderings, and guided the Hebrew people as they crossed the desert. Guard these your children who, for the love of your Name, make a pilgrimage to Compostela. Be their companion on the way, their guide at the crossroads, their strength in weariness, their defense in dangers, their shelter on the path, their shade in the heat, their light in the darkness, their comfort in discouragement, and the firmness of their intentions; that through your guidance, they may arrive safely at the end of their journey and, enriched with grace and virtue, may return to their homes filled with salutary and lasting joy’
(The Ven) Chris Beukman
Archdeacon for Deployment and Pastoral Care
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts