On the first of July 2015, the first group of Servidoras began the pilgrimage Camino de Santiago from Roncesvalles, following the most traditional route, el Camino Frances. Our group consisted of six missionaries in Canada: P. Ervens Mengelle, M. Maria del Sol, M. Parousia, Sr. Immaculada, Sr. Regina Cordium, and Sr. Advocata; two missionaries in the United States: M. Bendita and Sr. Bon Secours; one missionary in the Philippines: Sr. Resurrección; one missionary in Guyana: Sr. Ark of the Covenant; two Canadians: Uwaya and Maureen; one American: Sarah Jane; and one Mexican: Raquel. In this chronicle, we hope to share a glimpse of this grace-filled, apostolic pilgrimage.
A Brief Historical Overview of the Camino (in general)
The Camino de Santiago is one of the oldest, continuous pilgrimage routes of the Catholic Church. Millions of pilgrims have walked this road for nearly countless intentions. We could categorize the intention of pilgrims into two basic groups, which, nevertheless, maintain a certain fluidity between the two as the pilgrimage takes place: now, begging some needed grace or virtue through the intercession the Apostle St. James and then, thanking St. James for his intercession. Although one could, at least in theory, walk the Camino with a purely secular and recreational mindset, the reality is that those who walk are walking to the tomb of an Apostle – and not just any apostle, but one of Jesus’s favored three – the first martyred apostle, and the missionary apostle who, literally following the Lord’s command, went to the “end of the world.” With this historical context in mind, we turn to our pilgrimage.
Our Daily Life
As you might imagine, our days were filled with WALKING. We awoke up, grabbed a bite of breakfast, and headed out for the first leg of the day by about 6:30am. Before setting out, we re-packed everything and P. Ervens, our experienced guide, gave us the game plan: the town where we would make our first stop, the kilometer count for the day, the location of the optional second stop, and the final destination. He usually had to repeat the names of the towns and even spell them out for those of us whose Spanish was a bit lacking. He was very patient with us.
We walked for about an hour and by then the sun would be peaking out behind us displaying on most clear mornings a beautiful sunrise. By the time we reached our first destination around 8:30 or 9am, we had usually walked about 10-15 of the total 25-35 kilometers for that day, it was always encouraging to keep track of the distance covered and to notice the decreasing distance from Santiago de Compostella written on the road signs. Three things happened each first break: (1) morning prayer, (2) mid-morning snack, and (3) stretching. A few times the local church was open, so we could visit Our Lord and thank him for bringing us thus far.
Typically, doing an average of about 25km, we reached the albergue where we would spend the night around 12:30 or 1pm.
We lined up our backpacks in the order of arrival in order to get a bed; some sisters would stay to guard our backpacks, and others would go to the nearest grocery to get food for lunch, dinner, and breakfast (for the next day).
After lunch and the typical two-sandwich-and-a-piece-of-fruit lunch, nearly everyone settled down for a much-needed siesta. The historical importance and cultural heritage of the town or city determined our late afternoon and evenings. In the tiny “pueblos”, some with less than one hundred inhabitants, we used the afternoons to write the blog, do laundry, spend extra time in prayer in the small parish churches, or any number of other more or less minor activities.
Where there was more to see, we would take advantage to visit pilgrimage sites like the tomb and relics of Santo Domingo de la Calzada where two chickens are kept in a pen inside of the church in memorial of a miracle worked through the intercession of this saint, who served the pilgrims of Santiago, or the Cathedral of Burgos or that of Leon, or a beautiful fully functioning Carthusian monastery just outside of Burgos with its incredibly life-like statue of San Bruno, or the sixth-century monastery in the valley of Samos which still has Benedictines, or any number of the nearly countless holy and or ancient places of cultural and spiritual interest.
Father Ervens always celebrated Mass in the evening just before dinner. Sometimes fellow pilgrims joined in our private Mass, and at other times, we joined a larger community’s daily Mass concelebrated by Father Ervens, the local pastor, and fellow pilgrim priests.
Depending upon the type of albergue where we slept, we’d have dinner in community with all the pilgrims in the albergue (at parochial albergues), or with our small group (at private albergues), or with our newly-made camino friends (at municipal albergues). Only on very rare occasions would we have lunch or dinner without fellow pilgrims joining our group – it was just normal and expected that all were welcome to dine with us. Life on the Camino has its own culture, its own expectations, and its own way.
At one point, Sr. Resurrección commented that she had nearly no time to walk the Camino alone! We enthusiastically responded that such a choice was hers to make, in other words, she did not have to engage every pilgrim she passed in a deep theological, philosophical, or spiritual dialogue. But then again, her example and model of apostolic zeal presented us with something that, I would venture to say, even some saints may have to reckon with. There was nearly a constant opportunity for apostolate and each could interact as much or as little as one wanted each day. Some of the most profound and thought-provoking conversations started off with fellow pilgrims just commenting, “Wow, I’ve never seen a nun with a backpack!” God allowed us to tangibly see and taste some of the fruits of our camino apostolate, like one fellow pilgrim going to confession after years estranged from the church, another pilgrim penetrating into vocational discernment, and still another venturing to question and wrestle with confusions and doubts about life and God’s love. Most of the fruits, nevertheless, will only be known in heaven.
The Camino Analogy: The Pilgrimage and the Destination
The analogy of the pilgrimage with our daily life was and still is clearly evident to all of us who walked the Camino de Santiago this July. Some others think that it’s not about the destination but only about “the way.” There is some truth in this, but an essential and indispensible element is lacking in this kind of thinking, namely, the END. The point of the camino is not to “just walk,” the point is to get to the destination, to arrive at the tomb of the Apostle St. James. In the same way, our lives in the most profound sense are not just about “walking” or “being” but about getting to the goal: Heaven. None of us know how many kilometers we have left, how many more stops we’ll make, or if we’ll be always be attentive to the yellow arrows pointing the way, but this pilgrimage has already had and will continue to have a life-changing effect upon those of us who were able to participate and those who we carried with us in prayer throughout this pilgrimage.
Finally, we wish to express our profound gratitude to our benefactors, Mother Sacred Heart (Superior of the Province of the Immaculate Conception), and P. Ervens Mengelle for all that they did to make this pilgrimage come to fruition. We posted a blog (www.stjamescamino.wordpress.com) which is still accessible on the internet for those who would like to see and read more about the pilgrimage. We pray that many more members of Our Religious Family will have the opportunity to participate in this pilgrimage in the future.
In the Incarnate Word, through Our Lady of the Way,
The Sisters who walked the pilgrimage Camino de Santiago