A Linear, Moving Community

This post finds me on the camino de Santiago de Compostela, the 1000 or so year-old pilgrimage trail that runs across the top of Spain, ending at the place St. James is said to have been buried after evangelizing his way across the Iberian peninsula. A friend of mine and I are doing a project concerning pilgrimage, so we thought wed start by getting back to basics. And so we have--were now a week into our trek. I came to Spain early, and was a tourist for a while before becomng a pilgrim. As a tourist, I was struck by the number of churches that charge admission to enter, some not even bothering to use the euphemistic "donation." Its not that I dont understand the increased costs to pay for guards, maintenance for the extra mess caused by tramping tourists, etc., but it made the experience of entering a church feel like entering a muesum of historical artifacts. It was hard to discern a living community in many of them.On the camino, its different. Most churches are locked except for a few hours a few days a week. We got lucky once to find a lovely old sanctuary open for prayer, but, as fellow pilgrim Bernard from France remarked, "the churches--all cerrado!" [closed.] Yet--we pilgrims are a kind of community of our own. We see some familiar faces day-to-day, while others either pass us by or we pass them, hoping that their camino will continue well. We share food, tips on how to deal with blisters, and stories of the road. We join polyglot tables for dinner, trying to express however we can the varying motivations that brought us to the road. Some come for healing, some for renewal, some for the community of the trail, some to discover themselves, some to redirect themselves, some to experience the echoes of centuries of journeying mystics and misfits, and some simply to stretch themselves in a difficult endeavor. There is a powerful spiritual communion on the camino, even if not always, or only haltingly spoken in terms of Christian tradition. I wonder if that wasnt always part of the power of the camino--Jesus, after all, spoke of himself as the Way. The churches are mostly cerrado, but...didnt our hearts burn within us?

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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