Wendy is taking on the challenge of the Camino to raise money for the disadvantaged and at-risk children in South Africa and British Columbia who are supported by EwB. Learn more about Wendy’s Camino experience by reading her blog on Facebook.
What is the Camino?
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of St. James, in English, refers to the ancient paths taken by pilgrims to the shrine of the apostle St. James, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. In 1993 the Camino was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in recognition of its spiritual and historic significance. There are many different routes pilgrims can take to reach the city, the most popular being the Camino Frances which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In order to qualify for the compostela (certificate of accomplishment), pilgrims need to walk a minimum 100 km or cycle 200 km.
My journey will take 30 days, beginning in Roncevalles, the first Spanish town on the pilgrimage, on 5 September, 2017, finishing in Santiago de Compostela by 4 October, 2017. I will walk 375 km and cycle 375 km for a total of 750 km.
History of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela
James, one of Christ’s disciples, reportedly sailed to Galicia, Northern Spain after the crucifixion (circa 40 A.D.) to spread the new, radical gospel. On his return to Jerusalem, he was beheaded by Herod. Following his martyrdom, his body was brought back to the city of Libredon, Galicia which later became known as San Tiago (St. James).
By 711, the Moors (Arab & Berber settlers from Morocco) had conquered much of the southern Iberian (Spain & Portugal) peninsula. This Western Islamic Empire was considered the most tolerant and enlightened administration found anywhere in the known world at that time; there was religious freedom, and arts, science and architecture flourished.
Nevertheless, European monarchs were determined to restore the lands to Christianity, with St. James depicted as the inspiration for each military victory. He was consequently venerated as the patron saint of Spain, with the first pilgrimage to pay homage to his remains recorded in 950. Subsequently, the pilgrimage grew in popularity, with tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, eclipsing even the pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem. The 12th and 13th centuries were considered the Golden Age of the pilgrimage to Santiago, with religious and chivalrous orders such as the Knights Templar springing up to protect the pilgrims and further the aims of the Crusades in re-establishing Christianity across Europe.
Growing awareness of the zealotry of the Crusades (1095-1291) and the Spanish Inquisition (1478 -1834), as well as a decline in the power of the Church in modern Europe over the last century, has resulted in a shift in the image of the pilgrimage to Santiago. From essentially an act of penance, religious devotion and gratitude for the resurgence of Christianity across southern Europe, it has become, for many, a journey of self-reflection, a search for a renewed spiritual life, a reconciliation and celebration of different religious practices.
As veteran peregrino (pilgrim) John Brierley says: “Seemingly immune to all the social and political upheavals, the camino quietly goes about her gentle spirit of transformation.”
Why do the Camino?
As a goal-oriented person, I felt that I needed a challenge to mark my 65th year and official entry into senior citizenship. And what better challenge than to buck the elderly, frail image of a senior than to embark upon a physically gruelling adventure! I am healthy and active, but by no means would I ever be considered a ‘jock’, so completing the 750 km journey from Roncevalles to Santiago de Compostela in 30 days will be exhausting and painful, requiring training, perseverance and endurance. And a good measure of madness!
Entering my so-called Third Age forces me to confront my own mortality, question my relationship to the Divine, in whatever form that may take, reflect on the loss of loved ones, and face the inevitability of further losses in the future. Of course one can do this from the safety of one’s own armchair, but for me there is something awe-inspiring in following a sacred route, travelled by thousands over hundreds of years, connecting me to the history of the Moors, the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon, St. Francis of Assisi… It seems contrived to expect some radical transformation or answers to my existential crisis in a mere thirty days, but I do expect to be open to receive whatever comes my way.
To endure hardship, deprivation and struggle in order to improve oneself physically, emotionally and spiritually, is, in this day and age, an essentially privileged undertaking since, for many, it requires both money and leisure time. For this reason – perhaps, for me, the most important – I would like to take on the challenge of the Camino in order to raise money for the disadvantaged and at-risk children in South Africa and British Columbia who are supported by Education without Borders. The children of Fezeka and Mseki schools in the township of Gugulethu have no choice in facing poverty, abuse, poor education and malnutrition on a daily basis. Sponsoring my Camino will contribute to the possibility of a better life for them. And their courage will inspire me every time I feel weary, frustrated or despondent!