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Waking up on a misty Spanish mountainside, with 25 kilometers of trail to traverse before dinner, is probably not the common backdrop for a holiday.
A network of paths which cut through Europe and lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain, has become quite popular in recent years. With increased publicity through films like The Way, travel promotions and UNESCO’s world heritage list, people across Ireland and the world are tuning in to this age-old pilgrimage.
Straightaway the absence of busyness along the Camino path starts to clear the mind, the natural beauty demands your attention, and the rhythm of walking begins to draw deep from unused wells of reflection. The dynamic scenery and historic villages transport you back in time, invoking the imagination.
Here, we come away from the pressures of productivity which hint that our value depends on the degree we can produce certain results. Everyone in the group, regardless of performance, belongs.
We help set the tone by arranging our pilgrims in walking groups of four or five each morning so that everyone has the chance to walk with each other throughout the week. After a few hours walking shoulder to shoulder, it becomes a normal and natural part of the journey to talk about anything and everything, and bring up those questions they’ve been afraid to ask but still linger close to the heart.
The physical action of walking often parallels the journey of the spirit. The Camino project we do is not necessarily for religious people only, but we want pilgrims to participate in the full Camino experience by engaging in issues of faith. In the evenings we have a discussion time, which is the only real organised activity we do, other than eat meals together. We focus on the basics of Christianity, and talk about who Jesus is, what a relationship with Him looks like, and how this gives us strength and hope in our every day, well beyond the Camino experience.
And it is well worth the effort. One pilgrim summed up what many others had said. “I loved the evening meetings and discussions and just getting to know people.” Each heart undergoes a transformation and the whole experience leaves a lasting impression.
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