My Virtual Camino: Celebrating the Feast of St. James in My Own Backyard

When I started attending St. James Cathedral in Seattle 11 years ago, I said to a friend, “St. James? Which one is he again?”  

“He’s one of the Sons of Thunder!” she said, a little too loudly with a sort of spirited superhero look on her face.

I nearly spit out the double tall vanilla latte I was sipping, doubling over with laughter. “Sons of Thunder?” I asked.

My friend is some sort of Bible geek. She knows everyone’s names and zones in on the funny stories or at least makes them funny when she tells them. “Yeah, James was John’s brother. Not John the Baptist, John, the disciple who was Jesus’ favorite. I mean not really His favorite, but that one where it always says, John, the beloved disciple. That was their nickname in the Bible, the Sons of Thunder.“

Okay. I had to get to know this saint a bit better.  

Statue of St. James at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

Here’s what I learned: St. James was one of the first disciples to follow Christ. He came from a family of means in Galilee where his father, Zebedee, was a fisherman. Jesus called to James and his brother, John as they fished from their boat in the Sea of Galilee, saying, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

After Christ’s Ascension, St. James traveled to Rome, Spain, and back to Jerusalem spreading the Good News. He was one of the first missionaries and the first apostle to be martyred. Tradition holds that St. James’ body was returned to the country he evangelized, Spain, and buried in the town that is now Santiago de Compostela, a site that now draws more than 200,000 visitors each year.

During the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela, along with Rome and Jerusalem, became major Christian pilgrimage destinations. The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, follows several routes to Santiago, the most popular being the French Way. Pilgrims walk or bike the Way of St. James, stopping each night to stay the night at a refugio or albergue, similar to a hostel, for a nominal fee. Pilgrims often mark themselves with the symbol of the scallop shell and carry Camino “passports” that they stamp at refugios, churches, or cathedrals along the way. Reasons for walking the Camino vary from entirely non-religious motives to more spiritual intentions like deepening one’s prayer life or performing an act of penance.

An 18-foot puppet of St. James makes an appearance at Mass. Photo Courtesy of St. James Cathedral, Seattle.

At my parish, St. James Cathedral in Seattle, parishioners participate in a virtual Camino in the month leading up to the Feast of St. James. Parishioners pick up Camino passports after mass, making a commitment to the total miles we will walk each day or week. Each Sunday after Mass, we have our passport stamped. Similar to the intentions of pilgrims on the Way of St. James, we dedicate our virtual Camino to specific prayer intentions. I’ve been praying that I’d be able to see God through the little moments in my day. My young sons have been praying for their vice-principal who is battling lung disease. Sometimes we spend the time in gratitude thanking God for all we see and experience on our walk.

On our virtual Camino, we walk alone, with our families and friends, or along community walks planned by fellow parishioners. Our journey concludes with a parish picnic after Mass on St. James’ Feast Day.

Here are ideas for how you can recreate a Camino experience for yourself:

  • Set aside a weekend, week, or even month to dedicate time to walking in prayer.
  • Select your prayer intention for your Camino. You could carry a personal prayer concern or gather concerns from others. Commit one entire walk to a person you know who is going through a tough spell, or pray through your family tree. Or spend an entire walk praising God for the blessings throughout that day.
  • Walk alone or find a friend to walk and pray with you. You could pray silently or take turns making short intentions known, then switching turns saying, “Lord, Hear Our Prayer.”
  • For a family-friendly approach, walk with your family after dinner, taking turns thanking God for the happy moments in your day. This is especially fun with small children because you never know what will strike them as special about their day.
  • Pray a Novena, a commitment of nine days of prayer. Pray one similar to the pilgrims on the Camino. Or a novena to St. James seeking his prayers. Or any of these pilgrim prayers.  

This virtual Camino practice has become a summer tradition for our parish and family. I hope you can find a way to incorporate time to connect with God and St. James into the sunny days of summer.