Camino 2017: Walking in the Footsteps of Millions in Runners | Missionaries of the Sacred Heart

MSC Vocations, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, MSC Missions, Camino de Santiago, Camino, pilgrimage, MSC pilgrimageThere’s something special about getting up before dawn each morning, finding your boots (or runners – we’ll get to that later), and heading off with fellow pilgrims in a gentle procession across the Spanish countryside. This is the daily rhythm of those who walk the Camino de Santiago, as we walk from horizon to horizon to the resting place of St James the Apostle.

This is the fifth year that the MSC Vocations team have organised the pilgrimage on the Way. It is the sort of experience that attracts people from a variety of backgrounds. Each day, we’re out walking with the sun rising behind us. We stop for breakfast after a couple of hours, and then take a café con leche mid-morning. There’s no great rush. In fact, when you’re walking about 25km each day, you have go gently.

 

“On the Way, you take time – for yourself and for others.”

This is perhaps the greatest challenge of the Camino, that of slowing down. Our world today is fast-paced and constantly moving. Being under pressure is seen as a virtue for some strange reason. On the Way, you take time – for yourself and for others. You speak with absolute strangers. People come from all over the world, drawn by something they find difficult to put into words. One of our group this year hit it on the head when he said that we were walking in the MSC Vocations, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, MSC Missions, Camino de Santiago, Camino, pilgrimage, MSC pilgrimagefootsteps of millions of people, along pilgrim pathways that stretch back over a thousand years and that will continue into the future.

While it’s a reflective, meditative experience, it’s also good fun. When we arrived into these old towns, we would take a siesta and spend most of the day exploring, before gathering for a shared meal in the evening. We met a navy chaplain who keeps bees, a part-time Mr and Mrs Santa Claus who spend their summers caring for pilgrims, and plenty of people from South Korea, who couldn’t speak English but who were ace at sign language.

 

A small aside for future pilgrims – while runners look great, they’re not really ideal footwear for a walk like this. One statement from someone in this year’s group summed it up beautifully. Following a torrential rain shower, she told me, in what has to be the most positive interpretation of an uncomfortable situation ever, “Fr. Alan, my soaked trainers make it much easier to walk on my blistered feet!”

Buen Camino,
Fr. Alan

If you’d like to know more about our Camino trips, you can contact Fr. Alan at camino@mscmissions.ie, or call +353 (0) 86 785 7955 (Ireland) or +44 (0) 75 2676 4236 (UK).

On the Camino, we began each day with a moment of reflection. This was one of a number of pieces from the poet Mary Oliver, titled “Invitation”, which we used to inspire us for the day ahead:

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

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