The Camino de Santiago is a centuries old pilgrimage in the tradition of the Catholic Church. Today people walk it for a variety of reasons and in many, if not most, cases those reasons may not be religious. Through repeated encounters on the trail and in the streets, restaurants and bars in towns, one achieves a quick acquaintance with a variety of people. Who are they and why are they here?
I should mention that in these observations I am piggy backing on the skills and curiosity of my wife Martha, who frequently asks personal questions with a disarming frankness. She asks people why they are walking. I just hang around and listen.
Andy and Samantha
Two pilgrims whose motives are explicitly religious are a young married couple named Andy and Samantha from New Jersey. He is a minister in the Reformed Church in the U.S. and she is involved in church work as well. In college, he did his MA thesis on pilgrimages, specifically on the Camino. After all that he has learned, he wanted to experience it for himself. He gave us a brief history lesson as we walked along and I’ll share some of that information later on.
We have met a woman named Monique who lives in Paris. Her parents both died within the past couple of years. She says she was visiting Toronto and at the St. James Cathedral she had what she calls a revelation that she should walk the Camino. We see her at the pilgrim masses that we attend on some evenings.
Patricia is a young German woman who works in the tax department for the government. She has a 1.5 hour commute each day to work in Munich at a job that she does not enjoy. She wants to work more with people and less with numbers and is contemplating a career change.
Brian and the priesthood
Brian is a young man from Rhode Island and is trying to decide whether he should continue studies which he has interrupted to become a Dominican priest. We see him at the pilgrim masses, as well, and often he appears to be deep in prayer and intense contemplation. I have even seen him holding rosary beads and praying as he hikes.
Katherine is from Oregon and works with Hewlett Packard where she does consumer research. Her husband died recently after a years of illness with Alzheimer’s disease and now she is trying to decide when to retire and how to live that decision in the best way possible.
I walked for about an hour one day with a young woman named Auriel who is a French video journalist. There have been a lot of jobs lost in journalism and she now finds herself working for a television reality show and feels that she is wasting her talent. She does make occasional short documentaries and video ads for a religious order of French foreign missionaries and she finds that satisfying. She would like to do more such work and is trying to decide whether she should take the financial and career risk to do so.
Teri, Kathy & Juan
We have also met and become friendly with a group of three Californians, two women named Kathy and Teri and a guy named Juan, who is Kathy’s husband. The two women walk while he rides a bicycle and goes on ahead to arrange each day’s accommodation. Teri, who is married to Kathy’s ’s cousin, is carrying her mother’s ashes and plans (as Martin Sheen did in the film The Way) to scatter those ashes on the ocean at Finisterre, several days walk beyond Santiago de Compostela.
The odd story here, however, is that Teri’s mother was a devout fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and her family used the occasion of a fan appreciation day to go out and scatter a portion of those ashes on the grass in centre field.
Some of these people are consciously religious in a formal way; others would describe themselves as being spiritual but not religious. Still others would not describe themselves as either, but all are seekers. I wish them well.