Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is walking the 480-mile pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago despite, or maybe because of, the doubts she has about faith. Journey with her along this ancient path.

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May 14th, 2012

Packing List: Hiking shoes, sunscreen, rocks?


Rocks are not the first things I’d think to bring on a 480-mile pilgrimage walk across northern Spain. Hiking shoes, dry-wicking shirts, sunscreen: yes. But rocks? Though not shown on any packing list, I would wager that many of my fellow pilgrims along the route to Santiago de Compostela (a journey popularly known as the Camino), are carrying their own rocks.

The rock is meant to symbolize all our fears, burdens, and expectations about our pilgrimage. Some pilgrims carry a rock from home. Others, learning of the tradition only after being on the trail, pick one up as they walk along. We won’t carry them to Santiago though. Along “The Way” there stands an iron cross. When pilgrims arrive at this cross, they leave at the bottom of it the rock they’ve carried — symbolically placing all their worries, fears, anxieties, burdens, and expectations at the foot of the cross.

Ten days before I left on my pilgrimage, I gathered friends and family together for a pre-Camino send-off. My friend Sr. Elizabeth Anne gave a blessing and then anointed my eyes, my hands, and my feet. I took some time to tell the group the history of the pilgrimage.

“This trail has been around more than a thousand years. St. Francis walked it; so did King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Even Shirley MacLaine, more recently.” Some chuckled at the variety in that group. “Back in the day, it was believed that the relics of St. James the apostle were buried at Santiago, but that has since been questioned. Today, people walk for various reasons.”

After my friends listened to my story, they asked some questions.

“Didn’t you mention something about rocks?” my friend Maureen asked.

I told the group about the aforementioned tradition. “And this is the rock I’m bringing,” I said as I pulled it out of my pocket and held it up between my thumb and index finger. It was a Fairy Cross. I had learned about them in North Carolina, where I’d dug this one up last fall. The cross-shaped rock is formed when two pieces of the crystal staurolite grow together. One legend explains that these crosses were formed from the tears angels cried upon hearing about the death of Christ.

I passed the rock around and asked everyone to take a moment and put their fears and anxieties in the cross, so I could take those with me and leave them at the foot of that cross along the Camino.

I then pulled a second stone from my pocket, a heart-shaped one a little larger than the first. “And this one is for your wishes and dreams and hopes. I’m not sure where I’ll leave this, but I’ll figure that out when I’m there.” The rocks made their way around the room.
I carried them over the next few days to meet with friends unable to attend the gathering. Sitting with my friend Dawn at a wine bar a few nights before I left, I told her about them. The guy next to us leaned in when he saw them and listened as well. He, too — a total stranger — prayed with them.

So, it is not only physical things that I carry in my pack, but also the collective burdens and dreams of all who are walking this journey with me from afar. By leaving those rocks along this pilgrim’s path, my hope is to lighten my heart and the hearts of those whose burdens — and expectations — I take with me.

What burdens, expectations, fears would you place in the stone cross were it in your hand? What hopes and dreams would you put in the heart-shaped rock? Whether you pray them silently in your heart or write them here, know that I am honored to take them with me.

The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Rebecca Gallo

    Cecile – I think it takes some time to learn not just to hear what God is telling you, but then to trust it – especially because we usually don’t get to know the WHY of what he tells us to do at the time he tells us.

    Joe – Good luck on your Camino. Thank you for the compliment.

  • Joe

    I once carried a rock taken from Wasington DC @ the grave of Henry Brooks Adams to the Grave of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron in Dorset England. I wasn’t aware of the Camino Rock Tradition then or of the Camino. I plan to carry a special rock too like you have when I make my Camino . Great Writing btw …^5

  • Cecile

    My burdens have to do with not doing what God wants me to do. I do it sometimes, but not every time, In that, I think I have broken many commandments – Honor the Lord your God, you shall not have false gods before Him. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  • Rebecca Gallo

    Thank you to all for your responses to this post. I will take all of this with me along The Way.

  • Mary Ann

    A long-time pilgrim once told me…you walk the Camino when you want to see God Eyeball to eyeball…i pray for that experience for you, Rebecca. Let us know. Shalom

  • 8th per FreshmanTheology class, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School

    For our classmate/student/friend Andres Hidalgo, who is fighting Leukemia.
    S(stay).S(strong).A(Andres).H (hidalgo).

  • William Elias

    For my classmate/friend Andres Hidalgo, who is fighting Leukemia. S.S.A.H.
    (Stay Strong Andres Hidalgo)

  • Linda Mastro

    Thank you for inviting me to participate in the rock blessing ritual. I have recorded my lists for the cross and the heart and they sit on my home altar with the St. James candle that I light each day for you and for all pilgrims no matter where they walk. Blessings, my strong, generous and courageous friend.

  • Wendy

    For two mothers and their children who died in tragic accidents. One child, a young man, John, and the other a 5 month old, Carmelita.

  • sandy tabin

    For some reason i pictured a tortured sinner dragging a large rock along the way ala penance in the movie Missionary. Seems like something you’d want to know before setting out. Thanks for info however, I’ll be sitting this one out.those NC staurolites are considerably different from ones I’d gotten in NM. Mine was lost so the tear was shed twice.

  • Deacon Bob Davis

    For the members of my family and my friends who struggle with faith, that the Holy Spirit touch their hearts. And in sorrow for my own many sins!

  • Mom

    In reparation for the sins of the Church and the damage with which they burden the Church, I pray,Lord.

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