Fellowship is probably the best word to describe the felt experience of those who walked the Camino de Santiago. On the Camino itself, we created fellowship…community …. with our “fellow” travelers. We are “sojourners in a foreign land,” to borrow an image from one of Paul’s letters. We try and stop to help whenever needed, even if it means a change in plans; we share food, water and other beverages; we eat together and frequently sleep together, that is, in the same room with many others; we share stories about our lives and purpose for the Camino. Over a week or more, a fellowship develops that will always remain a part of our lives.
In many cities, including Chicago , groups have developed to continue the fellowship begun on the Camino. And I know how my fellow travelers feel when they get home and friends and family are unable to relate to or understand the deep experiences we’ve had on this strange journey of faith. The key for me as a priest is to inspire ALL people I encounter to help them to connect their lives with the felt experience of “pilgrimage,” in that we are all journeying through life. Nothing in this life ,including all of our relationships, is permanent. Living life on pilgrimage means living in the present and experiencing God in the people we encounter. We allow ourselves to keep moving forward, embracing whatever God brings our way. Each trip to work or the store or a friend’s house or even Starbucks can become a pilgrimage if we allow faith to intersect with ordinary life. Even the Camino can get routine and monotonous.
Each morning I get out of bed, I know I’m going to walk about 15 miles through some difficult territory. The destination is usually made the night before, but must change, when a shin splint develops, as it did for me. Sometimes it means admitting when a bus or taxi is needed because of injury. One never know…
But the walking gets very tiresome nonetheless. Even beautiful terrain gets lost in the, “I just want this to be OVER.”
Walking the Camino allows for pilgrims to enter and leave each other’s lives quickly, but with much intensity. Our shared stories become intertwined forever, relationships that will be rekindled in the Life that follows, where “goodbyes” never have to be said. I carry back with me memories that will continue to work their magic on my life.
One experience that has been strengthened on this Camino for me has been a deep certainty that all the people in my life who have passed on, who have completed their life long Camino, are very much alive and well. They have been part of this “fellowship” : my mom, aunt, uncle, cousins, friends , countless parishioners. They also have names and I spent this day of
saints and souls naming them…seeing them. Their felt presence gave me warmth in the loneliness of the journey.
I strengthened my fellowship with Francis, Teresa, Jude and most important of all… Mary. She is the first person to become a disciple of Jesus when she said “yes” to Gabriel. She was a disciple before she was mother, but it is her motherhood, her love for each one of us, that gives us courage and strength for the long haul. Jesus gave her to the human family as he hung upon the Cross. When he entrusted his mother to John, Jesus gave us a precious gift. “Behold your son…behold your mother,” are words from Christ on the Cross, forever changing how we are to relate to each other. As He suffered, he created a new way of being family. Mary, the Mother of God, is mother of us all, redefining our relationship with each other as sister and brother. I’m finally seeing that my family is much more than biology.
Buen camino. Four days to Santiago.