Seventeen years ago, in May 2004, my sister and I walked the famous ‘Camino De Santiago’ (the Way of Saint James). We did it as a pilgrimage, in the style of the pilgrims of earlier times, carrying all our belongings in rucksacks, living frugally, praying the Rosary and singing hymns along parts of the way, and finally hobbling sore-footed into lovely little Catholic Churches for Holy Mass (whenever possible) at the end of each long day when we had reached our planned destination. It was a life-changing experience for both of us. We met some wonderful and amazing fellow pilgrims, each one with their own interesting story to relate of their motives for making the pilgrimage. There also reigned a real Christian spirit of charity and kindness among everyone towards fellow pilgrims who were suffering or in need of help along the way. We had been told that most pilgrims nowadays walk El Camino for cultural purposes rather than religious ones, but that was not our experience. We came across many pilgrims, mostly Catholics but even some Protestants, who were walking it as a tough exercise to grow closer to God through the beauty of His Creation. There were even those who saw El Camino as a symbolic physical and spiritual analogy for life’s journey towards our final destination, Heaven.
From Spirit Daily (abbreviated and slightly modified)
Committing to the pilgrim’s path has for centuries been a source of renewal for those willing to put their lives on hold and spend days, weeks or even months crossing Spain along the Camino de Santiago, a journey that takes hikers to the reported burial place of the apostle St. James.
But after a year of being kept off the Way of St. James due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, soul-searchers hoping to heal wounds left by the coronavirus are once again strapping on backpacks and following trails marked with a seashell emblem to the shrine in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino de Santiago is actually a series of paths that fan out beyond the Iberian Peninsula and spread across Europe. Whichever route one takes, they all end at Santiago’s beautiful baroque cathedral, where believers can visit the tomb of St James the Apostle who, according to Catholic tradition, first brought Christianity to Spain and Portugal soon after the first Pentecost.
The pilgrimage has its roots in the alleged discovery of the tomb in the 9th century. Pilgrims have come to Santiago for well over a millenium, but the number of pilgrims making the trip boomed in recent decades after regional authorities revived the route.
It is now supported by a wide network of religious and civic organizations and served by public and private hostels at prices for all pockets.
Over 340,000 people from all over the world walked “El Camino” in 2019. Only 50,000 walked it last year, when Spain blocked both foreign and domestic travel except for during the summer months.
Before a state of emergency that limited travel between Spain’s regions ended on May 9, only a handful of Spanish pilgrims were arriving in Santiago each day and registering with the Pilgrim’s Reception Office to receive their official credential for having completed the pilgrimage. Now that travel is again permitted, more people from Spain and elsewhere in Europe are walking the ancient path, although many of the hostels that cater to pilgrims are still closed. A few hundred pilgrims, having found the remainder of their way through the city’s cobblestone streets, are arriving in the Obradoiro Square of the cathedral of Santiago each day. Compare this to the several thousand exhausted pilgrims leaning on their walking sticks that used to arrive during a typical summer.
The numbers of pilgrims arriving in Santiago over the next year-and-a-half will be boosted in the 2021 holy year dedicated to St. James that has been extended through 2022. This is important for Catholics who take part in the pilgrimage, for walking it during a Jubilee Year gives us the chance to receive a plenary indulgence, which grants the full remission of the temporal punishment for sins. The last Jubilee Year for the trail was in 2010.