On Good Friday of this year, 12 members of TFP Student Action embarked on a 133-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, which is the burial place of Saint James the Greater.
The History of the Camino
The Camino de Santiago, which translates to the “Way of Saint James,” is a traditional Catholic pilgrimage with a miraculous origin.
After Pentecost, the twelve apostles traveled abroad to fulfill Our Lord’s command: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).
To fulfill this divine commission, Saint James traveled to Hispania (modern-day Spain) and began his apostolic efforts. Despite immense difficulties, Saint James persevered and gave Spain her first Catholics. His sacrifices laid the foundation for what would become one of the most Catholic countries in the world.
Following his martyrdom in Jerusalem some years later, some of the saint’s disciples took his remains back to Spain. However, as time passed, the exact location of his burial place was forgotten due to Roman, barbarian and Moorish invasions.
However, in the ninth century, a spectacular miracle revealed the location of the apostle’s tomb to a hermit named Pelayo. As he was praying, he saw in the distance a star suddenly appear above a nearby forest. The star shone with an unprecedented brilliance, leaving the pious hermit perplexed.
While trying to discern the meaning of this extraordinary event, Pelayo remembered that the star was above the same forest that was rumored to be the location of Saint James’ tomb. He immediately informed the bishop, who ordered the entire area to be searched. Upon clearing the ground, the bishop’s men discovered a crypt containing the remains of Saint James and two of his disciples.
Word of the discovery spread rapidly across Spain. When Alphonsus II, the king of Asturias, heard about the miracle, he immediately began walking to the site from the city of Oviedo. By the time he reached Santiago, the king had traveled nearly 200 miles.
Countless pilgrims soon followed the king’s good example, and the Camino de Santiago was born. And now, twelve TFP pilgrims, including myself, are among those who have completed this beautiful pilgrimage.
The Portuguese Route
The first step when walking the Camino is choosing a starting point. There are countless routes. The shortest routes measure around 62 miles (100 kilometers). However, some traditional starting points can be found across Spain, France, Portugal, England, Germany, Italy, Croatia and even as far as Lithuania! For most medieval pilgrims, the starting place was their front doors.
We decided to take the Portuguese way. This route proved to be a perfect combination of ornate shrines and beautiful panoramas. In addition, this 133-mile route took nine days to complete, which aligned perfectly with our schedule.
Upon embarking on our pilgrimage, we presented Saint James with our intentions. The primary intention was to make reparation for the sin of abortion, which is responsible for the death of over 60 million Americans. We also sought to offer reparation for other sins, including drag queen story hours, assisted suicide and public Satanism.
We remembered these intentions as we walked to Santiago. After all, these sins offend Our Lord on a daily basis. The least we could do was offer our sacrifices as reparation.
“No Complaining and No Taxis”
And encounter sacrifices we did. We all knew that at some point, 133 miles would begin to take its toll. We all experienced pain, whether in the form of blisters, cramping, shin splints, piercing soreness or all of the above.
On some days, there was nowhere to stop for lunch. In these cases, we ignored our hunger and kept walking. Sometimes, there was no time to let our laundry dry, and we had to walk wearing wet clothes. And even if our clothes were dry, the unpredictable weather did not guarantee they would remain so.
Thus, there were two big temptations. First, suffering often prompts us to look for sympathy from others in the form of complaints. Second, the pilgrim would think the suffering is not worth it and be tempted to take a taxi ride to the hotel.
These temptations were foreseeable. We made an agreement before we left that there was to be no complaining and no taxis, no matter how hard things got. Sometimes it was difficult, but all the pilgrims kept their word.
A Thoroughly Catholic Journey
This perseverance paid off, as we received innumerable graces when walking the Camino.
The notably Catholic ambience provided the occasions for these graces. We came across countless chapels, shrines and stone crosses. These were all erected for pilgrims looking to keep their pilgrimage to Santiago a prayerful one.
We also prayed quick invocations to Our Lady or the saints as we passed these shrines. The sheer number of these holy sites made it seem as if we were praying ejaculations every few minutes.
We often stopped to pray at pious chapels along the way. In addition, we would join together three times daily to recite a group rosary in these places.
By doing this, we remembered that we had embarked on a pilgrimage, not an ordinary backpacking trip.
Times of Singing, Times of Silence
The camaraderie between the young TFP members impressed many other pilgrims. They were especially surprised to see young people from America singing lively songs about the Catholic heroes from Spain, such as El Cid Campeador and Saint Ferdinand. These songs helped us keep a cheerful disposition and develop a greater love of the Catholic heroes who had walked the same path centuries before us.
We also observed a contemplative component during the pilgrimage, with many periods of voluntary silence. Thus, we could reflect upon the graces we received and discern how to correspond to them.
After nine days of joy and suffering, we approached our final destination: Santiago de Compostela. We began to see the majestic towers of the Cathedral appear on the horizon over the other buildings. We turned corner after corner until we found ourselves before the Cathedral’s façade. At first, everyone was speechless—we stood there and admired the sight we had just walked 133 miles to visit.
After some time passed, we congratulated each other effusively. We joined together in praying the three loudest “Hail Marys” of our lives. After this, we cried out three times, “Viva Santiago de Compostela!” Many of the other pilgrims were touched by our prayers and greeted our group with loud applause.
After this, we entered the Cathedral and walked directly to the tomb of Saint James, where we knelt down and silently gave thanks for his help along the way.