Pilgrimage: Inspiration and Blisters

by Natalie Newton

Youth Pilgrimage to Spain

Paulo Coelho says in his book The Pilgrimage: “Even if I were not able to find my sword, the pilgrimage along the Road to Santiago was going to help me find myself.” This quote epitomizes the summary of our pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago this past summer. Through various history classes and Sunday school lessons, I was aware that religious pilgrimages were a common and true sign of faith hundreds of years ago, but before we began discussing our pilgrimage in Sunday school, I had never given much thought to the concept of a modern day pilgrimage. Our experience in Spain allowed me to craft my own definition of a pilgrimage – one that extends far beyond a line in a dictionary or book. Each experience of the trip added to our idea of pilgrimage – from walking along las Ramblas in Barcelona and visiting the Sagrada Familia, Antonio Gaudi’s church that is still being built today, to our nightly Compline, to our actual journey of walking along the Camino de Santiago.

Along the Camino, we were able to distance ourselves from the hectic urban lives that many of us lead every day. The Camino path led us through many towns and introduced us to the culture and setting of small towns, which we are unfamiliar with in Atlanta. John suggested that we walk alone for at least an hour every day to separate ourselves from the chatter and focus ourselves on our relationship with the Lord and our journey along the pilgrimage. During these alone times, I had no distractions and was constantly reminded of the pain from the blisters on my feet and the aches of soreness in my legs. Yet at the same time I felt closer to God than I have ever felt before. His presence was almost tangible as He guided us through every moment of walking on our trip. The toils of the Camino enriched my experience – I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much as I did if the journey had been easy.

Regardless of origin, home, or language, we were able to greet every other pilgrim that we encountered along the way with the Spanish expression, “Buen camino!” Some responded more enthusiastically than others to the bit of encouragement, but we felt a personal connection to each person on the Camino due to the bond created by our common goal. For those pilgrims who spoke a bit of English, we introduced ourselves, shared our story, and found out a little bit about their journey on the Camino. Nick’s personality seemed to attract many middle-aged ladies, but Cathy wasn’t too worried about it. On our first day of walking, Annie and I spoke to a man from Norway who had walked almost a thousand miles of the Camino, ALONE, over a span of more than two months. This situation allowed us to put our experience into perspective: while we were hesitant about the journey of over one hundred kilometers that lay ahead of us, this man had covered so much ground and was happily nearing the end of his journey.

For me, the most poignant moment of our entire pilgrimage was the scene as we ascended the Monte del Gozo, the last hill of the Camino, and arrived at the peak with the entire town of Santiago de Compostela laid out directly in front of us. When we first caught sight of the spires of the Cathedral, I knew immediately that I had discovered my “thin place” between heaven and earth; a concept which Cathy introduced to us at the beginning of our trip. I was overwhelmed with a sense of achievement and fulfillment, and felt so fortunate to have experienced this with our close-knit group. Although the pilgrimage was more than two months ago, I am reminded daily of our experience whenever I fiddle with my bracelet of prayer beads, see a shell, which is the symbol of the Camino, or remember a certain moment from the trip, such as the dreaded lancing of blisters with Lynn and Marie or playing “Euchre,” a card game which Nick taught us how to play. As we came into sight of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela as a united group, I was blown away as I thought of all that we had accomplished over the past ten days. That sensation of arriving at our destination with the Lord at our side, along with the memories, friendships, and a renewed strength in faith, defines our pilgrimage experience.

Click here to read another story about the Youth Pilgrmiage:
Owning Yourself  by George Spencer

Click here to read another story about the Youth Pilgrmiage:
Spiritual Memories by Hayden Yates

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