Lightness of being on the Camino de Santiago

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Friday, August 15, 2014

WHEN I first saw Rick and his cane shuffling along the thousand-year-old pilgrimage route to the tomb of Saint James in Spain's northwest, he looked like a poor, elderly laborer who didn't know how long and hard the Camino de Santiago could be.

To my surprise, his English was flawless and he knew much about the past and present of the Iberian Peninsula. Most amazing of all, he was doing his 15th Camino to Santiago and had walked routes that were longer and more challenging than the 790 kilometer Camino Frances that we were on.

After we reached Santiago de Compostela, I asked him if he walked the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons. He said, "No. I walk to Santiago because the problems and troubles of the world do not touch the Camino."


More than 90 percent of those who claim Compostelas or certificates of completion at the end of their pilgrimage, state that their Camino was for religious or spiritual reasons.

My husband, daughter, and I entered every open church and prayed or merely sat or knelt in front of the altar, allowing more than 800 years of masses and benedictions to wash over us and bless us.

I never felt particularly spiritual or religious on the Camino so this "Bisita Iglesia" seemed to be the least we could do if we were to be pilgrims and not people on vacation.

But spirituality on the Camino (as in life) isn't in feeling or acting spiritual or in suffering like Jesus did. The mere decision to walk a path where our usual idols - possessions, success, power, fame - have no place, is liberating and opens our heart altars to the divine.

A person doesn't have to be a Christian to be emotional when he lays the stone symbolizing his sins, his burdens, and his prayers, on the mound of other stones at the foot of the ancient Cruce de Ferro, the Iron Cross.

The Camino places us where everyone who shares the Way with us is our neighbor. It is not only the Way and its difficulties that we share. We sleep in the same albergues, eat in the same bars, drink from the same fountains, eat and drink from the same tables, worship under the same sky. In the Camino, I walk a path where everyone else is my brother.

As wonderfully alive as we felt on the Camino, there was never a day during the 34 days that we walked, when we did not pass at least one or two memorials erected by family and friends for those who died along the Way.

Confronted so often with the reality of death in the midst of so much life and joy, I couldn't help thinking of how finite life is and yet, even with its limitations, so beautiful and so much part of something larger and enduring.

Whatever the pilgrim's religious persuasions, whatever his reasons for following the yellow arrows that point the way to the tomb of St. James, the Camino, also called "the Way," strengthens, purifies, and blesses everyone who walks it.

No wonder people keep returning. What would the world be like if we could bring the peace, the clear sense of direction, the brotherliness, and the spirituality of the Camino to our daily life? Can we, beginning with ourselves?

Editor's Note: Andrea Si, her husband Manuel Si, and daughter Michelle Si walked to the Camino de Santiago from May 24 to June 26, 2014

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 16, 2014.


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