Our colleague and friend, Daphne Moser, priest at St. James Anglican Church in Smithers, walked the Camino de Santiago earlier this year. She kept a daily diary as she covered the 800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, Spain. Here she offers some reflections on the overall experience.
It has been said of the Camino that we walked 800 km (500 miles) to go to church. The pilgrim mass at the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain, was indeed one of the highlights of my pilgrimage, but it was not so much about the destination as about the journey. Five weeks of walking 800 km was indeed a journey for me, both physically and spiritually.
The Camino has a long history of pilgrims walking from any point in Europe to the place in Santiago where myth tells us the bones of James the greater, disciple of Jesus, are buried. As we walked the trail, I was always cognizant of the thousands of footsteps that had gone before me – and the thousands that continue to walk this path or one of the other paths that all converge on Santiago. I carried a relatively light pack with quick dry clothing. Imagine those ancient pilgrims with their heavy wool cloaks and a staff. They were entirely dependent on the hospitality of the local people. Not everyone made the destination. Along the trail were many memorials to pilgrims who had undertaken this journey as their last earthly journey and had died on the trail.
Day 2 of this epic journey was a turning point for me. We had walked over 30 km on the first day. Day 2 was supposed to be shorter, only 23 km. However, when we reached the small community of Zubiri, we discovered there was no accommodation left. No room at the inn! Our only option was to walk another 5 km. As we arrived, it was late in the day and once again, no room at the inn! Not any inn. No stables, or mangers, no place to lay our weary bodies. As I sat on the edge of the sidewalk – totally exhausted – I heard someone say, “Be by that house in 10 minutes. There will be a taxi to take us into Pamplona where there was a pension (boarding house) with 5 beds.” In my mind I was going to walk every step of this pilgrimage, but here on Day 2, this intention was challenged. As I reflected on this incident, I was intimately aware of how our Lord was working. I was not getting what I thought I wanted or expected, but I was given what I needed. This happened over and over again in our 5-week journey.
The residents of northern Spain who we encountered along the way certainly reflected Jesus working in their lives. Every day was a gift in the way that Jesus appeared to us on our journey through the lives of others. When we were feeling tired and hungry, tables of food appeared at the edge of the trail. Sometimes it was free; others were asking for a donation. I was reminded of Jesus’ words, “When I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, when I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Jesus appeared to us in the workers at coffee bars, in the people on the street who directed us back to the trail when we were off course. What we needed was always given to us.
We chose to stay mostly in “albergues,” which are like hostels. Some were rather cramped; others were bigger with more facilities. But they were clean and met our needs. I always had to remember that our needs were being met and appreciate the places that were shared with us. The same applied to food. Every evening we had access to a pilgrim menu: a 3-course meal including water and “Vinto Tinto” for a very reasonable 8-10 Euros. I wouldn’t class it as haute cuisine, but it was good standard fare that certainly met our needs at a very reasonable price. So often in life it is easy to be critical when we get less than expected, but on the Camino we were truly blessed by people providing for our basic comforts.
We were also blessed by our fellow travellers: young and old, fit and less fit, of every creed and nationality. We saw huge changes in some people. Those who struggled in the early stages came rushing past us as our journey came to an end. It was like meeting old friends. There were many more lessons of the Camino, but ultimately the biggest was to trust in the Lord. It was a privilege to be able to take the time to make this pilgrimage. I was blessed by the gifts received, the companions along the way, and also happy feet!