The weather today was spectacular, the scenery was beyond belief, but the physical hardship of the walk was absolutely relentless. The road just kept going higher and higher and the rocks and bolders that made up most of the path made walking treacherous. This was a hard day for everyone on the Camino…it never seemed to end.
Within this journey I learned about the life journeys of several of my pilgrim walkers. Their pain and anxiety were much like the road, seemingly endless and tiresome, just like the physical terrain. How much this journey is a metaphor for life, symbolizing the often unchosen suffering that just appears in one’s life, like a large stretch of bolders on the Camino. You can’t avoid them, at least not for long. Losing a loved one, seeing a child face illness or addiction, ending a marriage, not finding the right person, losing a job or hating one’s current job…loneliness… these are the many realities that make the road rough and the journey tiresome.
The Camino teaches to live in the present, accept the help that comes your way and it will, LET GO of plans that won’t work or relationships that don’t bring life, surrender to God and faith. These last two realities are rarely spoken about on this Camino, which is gradually being transformed into a walk with a purpose of finding one’s self. Religion, pilgrimage, Eucharist, Christ, community rooted in a common prayer…these are losing significance, which is ever so sad, in my opinion. When I asked about the religious value of the Camino during a conversation in the albergue, a wonderful pilgrim from Spain said quite openly, that the Camino was no longer religious, it was just “spiritual” for each individual pilgrim….or walker. I’m not even sure what being “spiritual” means, perhaps believing in some form of God or believing something on my own terms and with no defined teaching or doctrine. If it feels right to me and speaks a truth grounded in something outside of myself, I guess that is being “spiritual.”
And so, the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago is being transformed from an infrastructure created by Catholicism to a modern infrastructure created by UNESCO. All religions welcomed or no religions, it just doesn’t matter, as long as one respects whatever anyone else believes or not believes. Religion and spirituality need to be personal and very private. The Camino is clearly reflecting this new, secular attitude.
As I celebrated the Mass at the Cruz de Ferro, many people speaking Spanish clearly saw me celebrating a Mass but acted as if nothing special were going on. Their laughter and photo taking went on as I prayed the ancient prayer of the Eucharist with a wonderful fellow pilgrim. No big deal. After the Mass, I began talking and laughing with those around us, until a young woman approached and very politely asked us for silence as she was trying to pray. I was moved, and a bit embarrassed, by her sincere request. Four years ago when I prayed the Mass at this very spot, there was a certain solemnity in the atmosphere. Strangers paused and even prayed along, regardless of the language.
As I continue, the Camino will always be, for me, a pilgrimage, not primarily about meeting people and making friends, but about creating community with people of faith rooted in Christ, on a journey of faith. Of course, ALL are welcome, all or no religion, every race and culture and language can find expression on the Camino, for God loved ALL. Of course.
But I have a need to connect with people who share the same faith, the same basic understanding of church, the same ritual of worship and symbols that are revered and venerated by those who choose to commit to this community of the church. Most people don’t need or like or want any relationship with any organized religion. I do…which makes the journey, on and off the Camino, quite lonely. But Christ never promised it would be easy. And so I continue on the journey, facing rough terrain and endless road blocks, with those who also choose to embrace a religious community rooted in thousands of years of history, culture and faith openly expressed in ways respectful. The journey is important, but so is the destination: the beautiful cathedral, venerating the bones of St James with people who truly believe in the power of the Eucharist and the importance of Tradition.
Buen camino. Fr. Frank