“Pilgrimage is always a search for God and God’s goodness. True pilgrimage has to do with a change of heart. The outward journey serves to frame an inner journey: a journey of repentance and rebirth; a journey which seeks a deeper faith, greater holiness; a journey in search of God.”
Sister John Miriam Jones, With An Eagle’s Eye, p. 81
My name is Chris Hassell. For the past four years, before starting the Camino, I’ve been working as the curate of an Anglican Church in the West Midlands called Aldridge Parish Church. It’s been an incredible time in which God has both grown me as a person and has developed my gifts and skills for ministry. It has also been quite tiring! Spiritually as well as physically. But, I think, for me, the reason I’m doing the Camino is summed up by this quote from Sister John Miriam Jones. A pilgrimage is journey deeper into the heart of God. I expect to encounter Him in new ways. And as I meet dozens of people from around the world, who all bring such varied and diverse experiences of life, and as I also spend periods of time walking alone, I’m expecting God to bring things up from my past – stuff that God still needs to deal with and heal. So I’m anticipating my Camino to be a time of both healing and spiritual renewal.
The Camino de Santiago
For over a thousand years, Christians, atheists, agnostics and everything in between, have chosen to take time out of their busy schedules to walk the Camino de Santiago. The most popular route, and the route that I will be following, is known as The Way of St James, beginning in the French town of St Jean Pied-de-Port and travelling across northern Spain, through towns such as Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, before ending up at Santiago to Compostela some 500 miles later. In 2016, 277,915 people completed at least 100km of the journey to receive their Compostela from the Pilgrim Office in Santiago, their certificate of completion.
On one level, the pilgrimage is just a really long walk! But on a much deeper level, the charity established to promote the pilgrimage in the UK (The Confraternity of St James) say of the journey that it is, “an invitation to come and see what it means for a human being to be a true pilgrim – to hear the voice calling, “Rise up and leave your home”, to experience the transforming encounters with others, the Camino, with ourselves and with a God who welcomes each and every one.”
Much of the time I’ll be walking with people from a whole range of backgrounds. There’ll also be times that I walk alone. The challenge will be to allow those times to become moments of solitude, rather than moments of loneliness. Of solitude, Henri Nouwen writes that,
“It is in solitude that we discover that being is more important than having and that we are worth more than the results of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended but a gift to be shared”
(Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude)
So as I set out on the life-changing journey of the Camino de Santiago, I follow in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands who’ve gone before me and I will return in June, somehow, a changed person.