In December 2018, Rupert’s Land News introduced the six pilgrims from St. Margaret’s – three youth and three adults – who were heading off to walk the Camino de Santiago. Here are their stories from the trail. – KN
I was one of the six pilgrims from St. Margaret’s to take part in the Camino Pilgrimage in May 2019.
As a member of St. Margaret’s Church and an experienced hiker, it was a unique experience to walk with these wonderful young people. I loved the time walking and talking together along the well-travelled path that many walked before us.
I loved meeting the interesting people we walked beside and going into the small intimate churches along the way. We participated in Vespers, Compline, and Mass, all in Spanish, which turned out to be an unexpected joy. I had told my group that the churches were not a draw for me. I have been in many churches in my lifetime, and this pilgrimage was more about the company and the walk in Spain. These churches along the way, with their simple wood benches, wooden beams, and white walls, filled with pilgrims from many countries all worshipping together, touched my spirit and fed me. The young folks I walked with touched my heart and helped me to focus spiritually.
I loved the energy and beauty these friends brought to the pilgrimage. I retired this year, and this pilgrimage was the greatest gift I could have received.
Walking the Camino is a chance for individual pilgrimage, but as a group we drew inspiration, strength, and love from each other. It was a faith experience that had unique impact and will stay with me forever.
Anil Pinto-Gfroerer – Grade 12
On a pilgrimage you travel everywhere, covering countless miles, terrains, ascents and descents, bends and turns. One of my favourite parts of the walk was, in moments of severe weariness, looking back and remembering the land we had crossed, just little things like a creek or a certain break in the trees, even a cat we saw while passing through a town or a beautiful flower. Walking was so simple and yet so unbelievably profound.
The people we met on the Camino were also so deeply a part of our journey. I remember Iona and I having a conversation nearing the end of the walk. One of us said something along the lines of “it’s crazy how easy it is to love strangers when you spend every minute together and share your life in a way.” It was again the little things, like brushing your teeth together and talking about the day with whatever words you shared. It was such a fascinating experience talking to someone from Germany or Japan or France in Spanish! I really don’t know very much Spanish and neither did they, yet it was the only language we shared.
Though the journey itself was my favourite, it was the spiritual aspect that made me keep going. Prayer was such a consistent part of the walk – just stopping in chapels and churches to kneel down, the act of signing the cross with holy water, it was beautiful. Whenever my mind wandered to places that scared or worried me, I could just keep praying and walking. While preparing for the trip, I remember thinking “What am I going to do with my brain? I am just going to be left alone with it for 13 days, like I don’t know what I will think about, how will I stay sane, surely this cannot turn out very well!” But it was amazing how little I thought and how much the movements of my feet, the words of those I loved and were beginning to love, and the sights I saw occupied me. I felt so blissfully free in those moments. Without the simplicity and quiet of prayer and the time that we were given, I don’t think that that kind of freedom would have been possible, the kind of freedom and peace that I haven’t felt ever in my life.
The Camino itself is such a beautiful journey because it allows for balance. There is time, time to pray and contemplate, time to plan for the future, time to explore and experience, time to enjoy and dance and meet new and fascinating people, time to shop and eat and indulge and be frugal. There is so much space to be. The Camino is different than other kinds of life journeys because it has all these elements. You can eat well, and go out and be jovial, and you can be sore and weary and broken, and you will grow in faith and in yourself. Really, I think that everybody should do the Camino, in some shape or form at some point in life, it is so good.
“Buen Camino de Vida.”
Iona Taylor – Grade 12
The Camino de Santiago, a journey of three words: simplicity, community, and God.
Everything about the pilgrimage was so much more simple than I could have thought. There was one solid goal everyday: get to a town to sleep. No aimlessness, no pressing work to worry about, and no complicated situation to sort out. There was so much space and freedom to leave my spirit free to roam and dance. All things to be worried about were carried on my back, leaving not much to agonize over. I have never been so happy with so little. This simplicity allowed so much time to love and connect with all the pilgrims because no one had anything better to do than listen to one another. This simplicity was made painfully aware in my soul when I returned home to schoolwork, unfamiliar clothes, and too much to carry on my back.
Another aspect of the Camino that I keep close in my heart is the community. I did not meet a single pilgrim that was not kind, open, and vulnerable with me. Everyone, whether it was a nod or a conversation stretching over multiple days, was able to connect with one another because of the communal suffering, hope, and perseverance we all shared. Everyone on the walk shared these beautiful experiences and, no matter why, we all had one concrete goal: Santiago. This meant that no matter the pace you moved at, you were bound to run into someone you had already met. We were a travelling community. Journeying together allowed for the flourishing of such beautiful bonds with people along the way, ones I miss so much that my heart hurts.
I went on the Camino knowing it was a spiritual journey, but what I did not realize was just how much the act of physically walking would solidify the notion of “walking with God.” Each step of the way, I was walking with Him, never abandoned or forgotten. The more I walked, the less I thought of worrisome thoughts. I saw the beauty of God everywhere around me, in the raindrops tip-tapping on tree leaves, in the sunrises, in the wildflowers and birdsong, but I also had concrete opportunities to connect with Him, offered by all the small chapels and churches along our walks where I could kneel down and search the small sanctuaries for words of praise or worry that had maybe escaped me while being consumed by pain or a conversation during the walk. I could cross myself, feel the hard wood against my knees, light a candle and bring holy water up to my forehead even when I did not know what to say. His presence was all-encompassing and steadfast.
My soul aches to return everyday.
Mark Gareau – Youth Leader
After being on the Camino de Santiago with our youth, there are a few things that have stayed with me. For myself, it is a renewed understanding of simplicity and progress, and seeing how it affected our youth. Many times in my life, I thought that satisfaction, growth, and serving the Lord would come from a life of complex challenges and routines. The Camino showed me that this does not have to be the case. The simplicity of the pilgrimage gave me a sense of peace I had not experienced in a long time. Intertwined in this is that my sense of accomplishment changed. No longer did it need to be big leaps and bounds; it can be as small as being able to take the next step.
Most importantly, it was being able to watch our youth experience the Camino for themselves. To watch as they overcame their struggles, shared joy in our progress, and shared stories with our fellow pilgrims. The youth stood out as the only youth early on in our journey and that attracted a lot of attention from fellow pilgrims. It was amazing to see how these other believers would open up to our youth and share stories of their faith journeys. It is an experience I hope can be shared with many youth in the future.
Faith Nero – Grade 11
For me, the Camino experience was enriching in so many ways. During the trip, I was able to strengthen my relationship with God through being surrounded by His creation and seeing Him in the people around me. The mountain top was when I felt closest to Him; the vast blue skies and faded peaks across the flowery valleys will always be treasured in my memory.
The people along the way were so diverse, but always friendly and determined. I was able to better myself as a person though reflections and pushing myself further than before, both physically and mentally. By walking about 20 kilometres a day, you begin to feel it, but by the third day a good night’s sleep will do so much more than you could imagine! By spending so much time in my head, I found a more defined version of who I am and who I aspire to be. To top it off, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people to go with. I would never trade the Camino experience for anything in the world. It has made me better as a person, and it was one of the most enriching events in my life!
Rebecca Widdicombe – Youth Leader
My favourite part of the Camino pilgrimage was the mornings. We’d wake up in the darkness to beat the rush out of the hostel, and walk quietly as the sun slowly rose. Sometimes, you couldn’t see more then a few feet in front of you and you had to trust that the road just kept going. It made me think of how the disciples must have felt as they travelled by foot to spread the Gospel and build the Church. Since we left the week after Easter Sunday, this was very fitting – we had our feet washed on Maundy Thursday, we had been to the empty tomb, and now we were going out into the world.
When I dreamed up this idea of a youth pilgrimage, I imagined it would help teens walk toward adulthood and discover the light of Christ inside them. But in the end, what I found was they were already the Light, lighting up the Way for everyone they encountered. Pilgrims from all over the world were astonished by them and took so much delight and sustenance from each of them. There was no “discovering” themselves – they were simply being. It was humbling to walk beside them and watch the Light spread.
All photos courtesy Rebecca Widdicombe.