What the hell is the Camino, anyway?

For those friends of mine out there reading this, and any other interested seekers, who may not be too familiar with exactly what the Camino is, let me try to explain as best I can (because I’m really just learning it and experiencing it myself for the first time.)

For starters, watch this video to the right I made for last year’s Busted Halo pilgrimage (and special thanks as always to Franciscan Spirit Tours with helping on on these Spiritual Seeker Adventures.)

The Camino, or Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, (by the way, for all you non-Spanish speaking gringos out there like myself, Camino just means “the way,” and Santiago, or Santo Iago, just means St. James,) is a thousand year old pilgrimage across northern Spain to a ginormous cathedral in a town called Santiago de Compostela. It’s rumored that the apostle, St. James, is buried there. Not just any saint or disciple, but a bona fide apostle, one of the twelve. Now, even though it’s a rumor, and many voices out there claim it might not exactly be true, the legend has still inspired hundreds of millions of pilgrims, and a quarter million each year since the 1980’s, to travel (either on foot, bike or horseback) anywhere from 100km to 1500km or more to reach the destination.

Now, I won’t go into much history about it, I’d just be copying and pasting information from the Wikipedia page anyway, but I will give a few thoughts about the pilgrimage that I’ve shared with the other pilgrims I’m journeying with.

Pilgrimage is…a sign of contradiction, and of resistance to our prevailing value system, that of the market. Pilgrimage, after all, has no function other than itself; its means is as important as its end, its process as its product. Its utility value is small, and its benefits cannot be quantified or costed. Its value is intrinsic. It is something that is good to do because it is good to do. It states clearly that the extravagant gesture (because it is extravagant in terms of time and commitment) is an irrepressible part of what it means to be human and to walk on the earth. And whether the context for pilgrimage is solitude or community, we will be drawn deeper into the mystery of God and the care of creation. (Kathy Galloway)

Each of us is here on this hike for a different reason, and we all walk for our own reasons, but it’s beautiful that we do it simply to do it, and through the process attempt to somehow make ourselves greater than we are, or perhaps just less awful.

What’s most important to remember is that it’s not just Christians who are pilgrims. Muslims are enlisted by God to journey to Mecca once in their lifetimes, simply because God asks it. Buddhist monks make similar journeys, laying upon the ground in prostration, standing up, walking one body length, and laying down again, continuing this process until they reach their destination. And I’ve known many Jewish friends who make their own own pilgrimage in the form of the Birthright trip.

So, as we pilgrims make our way to the Cathedral of St. James over the next six days, it’s important that we identify not just with the other Camino pilgrims, present day and a millenium before us, but with other cultures and other faiths as well, and ultimately Christ himself. Jesus made his own pilgrimage of sorts, on the road to Calvary, through all the events of Holy Week, and finally the last leg with the cross upon his back.

And that’s very good company to be keeping, if you ask me.

Finally, a prayer, to St. James himself, that I will pray with the other pilgrims shortly. (This comes from the blog cathedralliturgy.blogspot.com)

St. James! We come to you in eager pilgrimage.
We come as part of a great throng of pilgrims
who through the centuries have come to this place,
where you are pilgrim and host, apostle and patron.
We come to you today
because we are on a common journey.
Place yourself, patron of pilgrims,
at the head of our pilgrimage.
Teach us, apostle and friend of the Lord,
the WAY which leads to him.
Open us, preacher of the Gospel,
to the TRUTH you learned from your Master’s lips.
Give us, witness of the faith,
the strength always to love the LIFE Christ gives.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.