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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December 27th, 2012

Why would a woman with serious doubts about her Catholic faith embark on a 480-mile pilgrimage trail across northern Spain? Maybe I’ll know by the time I finish. For now, the answer to that question is this: I just know it’s something I’m supposed to do. My gut, my intuition, my heart, my God (I use them all interchangeably) has never steered me wrong. From the moment I decided to take this journey, everything has fallen into place — as it usually does when you trust in God.

I will fully admit, however, that I had my doubts — and still do. Doubts not only about my ability to complete this pilgrimage, but also doubts about my faith — or perhaps, more accurately, the religion into which I’d been born. In Catholic elementary school, God played a role similar to a parent or teacher. He had rules for me to follow. There were consequences if I disobeyed. God had things to teach me, which I took to be true because kids believed adults. Still aiming to please adults in high school, I continued to do as my religion instructed — but started to question the reasoning behind it all. In …

July 3rd, 2012

A puddle along the Camino.

Early in my Camino, I had a dream I was pregnant. In the dream, I was surprisingly okay with the idea. I say “surprisingly” because for most of my life I have not wanted to have children.

“Maybe it’s a sign of a new self that you’re birthing,” Mona, a fellow pilgrim, told me. “When you dream about birth, or death actually, they say it can be a sign of a big change — part of your old life dying and something new being born.”

Rain that Christens

That new life got its christening two days before I entered Santiago. It had been raining on and off the entire day, but not heavily enough to warrant me pulling out and pulling on my rain pants. Mona, Julie, and I sat in a cafe looking at our maps. We determined we had just about an hour to our destination for the day — a hotel. With real sheets. And fluffy towels. And maybe, if we were lucky, a hair dryer. We headed out again and it started to pour. I wasn’t going to put rain pants on over my already-soaked pants, so I just kept going. …

June 25th, 2012

A sign for the Internet along the Camino.

After walking 12 miles, Philipp and I were relieved to arrive at the albergue in Tosantos, Spain. We were greeted by Dani, a volunteer serving as the welcoming committee, chef, and housekeeper that week. We left our packs in the hall and followed Dani into the living room.

I saw the now-familiar log book on the coffee table. At each day’s destination, we turn over our Pilgrim Credential, which lists our name, starting point, hometown, and country of origin. All of this information is entered into the book, our Credential is stamped, and we are shown to our bed for the night. But Tosantos was different. Dani didn’t make any moves for the book. Instead he asked us about ourselves, where we were from, and our Camino experience thus far. It was refreshing to not be just another pilgrim to be entered into the log.

Twenty minutes later, I discovered why Dani delayed. “Before you decide to stay here, I need to tell you about one rule that we have. You can’t get up before 6:30.” Philipp and I let out big sighs of relief and heartily agreed that this was not …

June 20th, 2012

Rebecca (far right) with fellow pilgrims on the Camino.

When a friend e-mailed me last September to tell me a movie was coming out about the Camino I was a little alarmed — would the Camino become overrun with Americans? I liked that most of the people I told about the Camino back in the United States had never heard of it. It felt like I’d discovered something. As a former teacher, I enjoyed telling people about the history of the pilgrimage trail and the details of my upcoming trip. I was looking forward to meeting pilgrims from all over the world — not a bunch of Americans who had come on a whim after seeing a movie.

When the movie was released in November, my mother and I went to see it. “Was there anything that surprised you?” she asked as we walked out of the theater.

“No, I pretty much knew all that stuff,” I told her. I had, after all, been researching for my upcoming walk on the Camino for the last six months. I had read every book our library had on the topic. I knew about the passport stamps, the difficulties of sleeping in albergues, …

June 15th, 2012

Rebecca Gallo on the Camino.

I am due to arrive in Santiago on Saturday — a full three days ahead of schedule. I’m eager to get to my destination, but more excited about my early arrival because it means I can spend two nights at Casa do Raposito — a place of reflection for pilgrims who have just finished their Camino.

When I started the Camino 35 days ago, I didn’t know such a place even existed. I heard about it only thanks to someone I met on what I thought would be a terrible day.

I had stayed the previous night at a parish hostel in Berciamos. Sixty people sat at a long line of tables to share a community meal. After dinner, pilgrims from each country sang a song from their homeland. This took nearly an hour as we had 14 countries represented. Twenty pilgrims opted to join in the blessing and prayer offered in the meditation room before we went to bed. While there, we passed around a candle that had been through the hands of thousands of pilgrims before us. When it came to us, we could say whatever we wanted in whatever language, or say …

June 12th, 2012

Walking in the morning fog.

“Whenever I have a big decision to make, I go for a walk. Then, I go to sleep. When I wake up, the answer is always there.” Mona, a wise woman from South Africa I’ve been walking with the last few days, told me this today. It reminded me of evenings I’ve called my mother stressed over something. “Go to bed,” she’d tell me. “It will all look better in the morning.” And indeed it does. Perhaps now I’ll go for a walk before crawling into bed.

Many pilgrims are walking the Camino contemplating a major change in their lives or with a question they’d like answered. I’ve met at least half a dozen pilgrims walking the Camino after ending a relationship. I’ve met retirees contemplating their new lives. I’ve met young and old alike wondering which direction to take their lives next. If a problem can be solved by taking a walk and then going to sleep, the Camino can solve a lot of problems. I’ve talked to former pilgrims who tell me the most lasting change they’ve noticed in their lives is that when they need a break, or an answer, they take …

June 7th, 2012

A Sunday morning in Leon, Spain.

Walking the Camino, like walking any other path in life, can sometimes have its “down” days. Today was one of those days. I just didn’t feel like walking anymore. I opened my pedometer to see I’d only walked 200 steps since last I checked it. The route was descending steeply and full of rocks. It took not only physical but mental energy as I had to focus on each individual step. I walked with others, but even their company didn’t help — I was just ready to be finished. For the day. Or with the Camino? I wasn’t sure.

I wondered what caused this down mood and why I couldn’t get out of it. Was it because I didn’t go through my morning ritual of stretching and writing, instead leaving earlier than usual to see a sunrise? Was it because the sunrise I got up to see was disappointing — filled with clouds instead of light? Was it because when I reached the Cruz de Ferro — the place where I was to leave my rock of fears, burdens, and expectations — I found it to be littered and not at all the sacred …

May 31st, 2012

Cathedral of Burgos in northern Spain.

At the parish hostel I stayed at in Tosantos (population: 20) we all went up to the third floor chapel after our shared meal. The hospitalerios (a volunteer who runs the hostel) led us in a prayer service that included readings, blessings, songs, and prayer in French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian (representative of the countries from which the nine of us pilgrims had come). He then had a message to share with us: The Camino is not so much about the outward physical journey as the inward journey of our hearts. He encouraged us to take this message with us along The Way. Having just passed the half-way mark on my journey along the Camino, I thought now would be a time to reflect on that inward journey.

As I mentioned in my first Busted Halo blog post, my spiritual journey has had a few bumps along the way. I got to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port to start my Camino wondering if this journey would help me come to any realizations about my shaky connection to my Catholic faith. So far I’ve realized this: I am just where God wants me to be. He’s …

May 29th, 2012

“Don’t let your fears load your pack,” Rick said to me on our third day on the Camino. He’d read this advice on a Camino Forum, but admitted he didn’t follow it close enough. As we walked along, he decided to heed this advice and let go of his bedbug spray. Years ago the hostels along the Camino had a problem with bedbugs, but I’d read it had since been remedied. I hoped that was true. So did Rick.

It took me six days to get up the courage to leave my fears behind. At my hostel in Estella, I left a pair of flip flops, a paperback book, and a pair of rain covers for my shoes. Indeed, fear was what had me pack those things to begin with. The flip flops were packed after my sister’s warning about contracting foot fungus in the communal showers. The paperback was to combat potential boredom. The rain shoes were the hardest (and heaviest) to let go, but easier once experienced pilgrims told me all the ways to dry my shoes should they get wet. (Besides the fact that my mother had doused my hiking shoes in waterproofing spray before I left.)…

May 22nd, 2012

The trail marker was ambiguous. I thought it pointed to the mowed path off to our right. My new friend Michel thought it meant we were to stay on the paved road we were on. I recalled that my map indicated we’d be walking along a road for most of the day, so I listened to Michel, but was nervous we were going the wrong way. Walking through the Pyrenees with 22 pounds on my back, I didn’t want to have to backtrack.

“Is this the right way?” I asked God in my head.

“Just follow Michel. You’ll be fine.” God replied.

“Can’t you just show me another trail marker so I feel better?”

“Follow Michel,” he said. God often has to repeat things for me. I’m not the best at believing him the first time — or the fifth.

So I followed the Frenchman I’d met only an hour earlier. He had come up quickly behind me as I struggled up the mountain road. We greeted each other after which I thought he’d be on his way. But he slowed his pace to mine and we traded life stories. As I conversed with him in French, I thought of …

May 17th, 2012

Rémy and I placed our orders for paella at a cafe on the square in Pamplona. It had been a long day walking the Camino and we still had a few more kilometers to go. Our packs sat on the ground next to our table. As we sat sipping our beer, I saw Antoine walking across the square. I had met Antoine a few days earlier — he’s a 27-year-old Frenchman on his second Camino in less than one year. He had his 40-pound pack on his back, walking sticks in one hand, and a guitar case in the other. I called him over to our table.

“You really bought it!” I said.

Rémy couldn’t believe his eyes. “You just bought a guitar?” he asked. Antoine had told me earlier he was going to buy one when he got to Pamplona. It was not something I would choose to carry for 480 miles, but I’d learned long ago to let go of my idea of “the right way” to walk The Camino.

Six months earlier, my image of a pilgrim was much different. I envisioned walking every mile, a 10-pound pack on my back, staying each night at simple hostels …

May 14th, 2012

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.…

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