Charlotte seminiarian reflects on the Camino
Christopher Bond made 500-mile trek in Spain
On June 7, 2012, I woke up in the small French town of St. Jean Pied de Port. With a carefully packed rucksack securely yoked to my body, I ventured out of town on foot in the pre-dawn darkness. I was determined to walk roughly 500 miles to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I was a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago!
I felt prepared. I had purchased an excellent pair of hiking boots, studied my pilgrim's guidebook containing stage maps and practical advisements, and I had trained (a little). I knew a rather tough climb lie ahead that first day. I was to immediately ascend the eastern slope of the Pyrenees mountains on my way into Spain. I quickly learned I was not prepared!
During the weeks leading up to my Camino I "practiced" walking about every other day. I started out relatively light but quickly built up my endurance to be able to walk 22 miles. This distance represented the longest stage on the Camino. However, I rarely walked with a full rucksack, I took many rest stops, and I did not incorporate any considerable elevation changes. As the sun began to rise and I was rising up the mountain, I realized my physical preparations had not been enough. For the next 10 hours I was in shear pain and perhaps flirting with major injury.
If I had approached this journey as only a physical one, I probably would have given up on the first day. Thankfully, I am a Catholic and I believe in the power of prayer. In fact, I spent much more time preparing spiritually for this endeavor than I did physically. I spent many holy hours training my heart and mind for the physical and mental discouragement I knew I would inevitably face on the Camino. It was during one of those holy hours that I realized I needed to present all of my concerns to Our Lady and to seek her constant intercession during my expedition. I felt as though she was calling me to herself in a very special way. I decided to spend time with her in Lourdes, France, for the two days just prior to my "walk." There, I specifically invited Our Lady of Lourdes and her Son, Jesus Christ, to walk with me and to guard my spirit, mind and body. Thanks to her motherly protection and my intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, I was able to finish my pilgrimage in 33 days!
The Camino de Santiago is a trail through some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen. It is a path filled with mesmerizing flora and fauna of all kinds. It is an excursion through countless cities, towns and villages, each with a unique character and charm. It is a corridor that takes you past more than 150 jaw-dropping chapels, churches, monasteries, cathedrals and basilicas. It is the opportunity to cultivate relationships and share your faith with people from all over the world.
The Camino de Santiago is a juxtaposition of a pleasant overload of the senses and an undeniably physically challenging experience. It harmoniously combines pure joy and palpable suffering. In this way, the Camino echoes the spiritual life. However, the corporeal highs and lows do not merely parallel or symbolize the soul's journey, they are also intrinsically interdependent. The fruits produced and the detriments incurred in the spiritual life often manifest themselves in the physical world, and vice versa. Our earthly existence is not to be considered as our soul held captive by our bodies, somehow in opposition. Rather, our body and soul should be a unified vessel constantly aimed toward our own salvation and the greater glory of God. I learned many things on the road to Santiago. This just happens to be one, albeit, very important lesson.
I never felt more at home as I did out in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign country, oftentimes miles away from anyone or anything. I felt like I was bathing in God's graces in the midst of His beautiful creation. I had prayed for an edifying and spiritually uplifting pilgrimage. What I experienced was more than I could have imagined.
People are always coming up to me saying, "I heard that you walked the Camino de Santiago." I tell them, "You don't walk the Camino, the Camino walks you!"
— Christopher Bond is a seminarian for the Diocese of Charlotte.
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