Monday, August 17, 2009

Routes, Roots, and Companions Along the Way

People speak of "The Camino," but in fact there are as many roads to Santiago as to Rome, another popular medieval pilgrimage route. The map shows a network of paths coming in from Portugal, France, and inside Spain itself, all converging on Santiago. I visited a spot in Augsburg, Germany where pilgrims stopped, refreshed, received blessings, and continued their journey to Spain.

Which route would we take? Initially, we figured on the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo, one of the oldest. Further research and conversations with some other pilgrims made me think again. More experienced pilgrims recommended the Camino Frances to us first-time pilgrims: it's more populated, which means more hostels and support services. We took their counsel, and with permission from our granting agency, we spread out the maps and refigured.

We'll start August 31st in Pamplona,where Ignatius Loyola was injured defending the city against the French in 1521. The city fell, an artillery shot shattered his right leg, and Ignatius began his conversion from courtier to "pilgrim," as he calls himself. We'll stay close to where the family castle was located. From Pamplona we'll hike to Burgos, about 220 km through the regions of Navarre and La Rioja. We hope to do this in about ten days.Then we'll take a train across the high, hot, dry plateau of central Spain to Astorga. From there we move through Castilla y Leon into Galicia and Santiago de Compostela, another 275 km. If there's time, we hope to get out to Finisterra, literally, the "end of the world." To the medieval mind if there were Christians in Finisterra, then the gospel had reached "the ends of the earth."

Can we do it? People asked if we thought we could climb Kilimanjaro. Then and now, the answer is simply: "We'll see." But then and now, we'll get there by simply taking the next step. In our party climbing Kili, there were seven climbers, then six. With us, though, throughout were 23 porters, guides, and cooks. We have similar support on this trip, and I want to thank the Association of Theological Schools for their enabling grant, Daniel Johnson for his advice, Jan Ruud and Jim Reites for their experience as pilgrims, Ed Peck and Orv Gingerich for their insight into immersion as pilgrimage, and Bob Marino and Sonny Manuel, who helped me think through both the Ignatian and therapeutic dimensions of pilgrimage. You helped us assemble our "gear." And we are grateful!

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