The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain is one of the top pilgrimage destinations in the world. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the burial place of St. James the Greater.
In Discovering the Camino de Santiago, Father Greg Markey takes the reader on this 500-mile pilgrimage route, which has been well worn since the ninth century. This Connecticut pastor hiked the route over 34 days in 2009.
What an enjoyable, insightful, enriching journey it turns out to be. In prose that flows like a conversation with friends, Father Markey recounts his experiences through villages, hostels and churches, arriving for the feast of St. James on July 25.
We’re at his side through the beauty, the pain, the humor, the spiritual insights and lessons along the Camino, often in encounters with people he meets — many with little faith, no faith or faith misunderstood. He reaches out with a simple word of truth and often ends a conversation by giving a blessed Miraculous Medal, trusting Our Lady to take over.
“When there was a pause in our conversation, I reached into my pocket and handed her a medal,” he writes of a non-practicing Catholic. “‘Es la Virgen,’ I gently said. She kissed it, and tears welled up in her eyes. She was so overwhelmed she had to walk away to control herself. Only the Lord knows what was going on in her life.”
Father Markey goes to primary Spanish sources and Leo XIII’s papal bull Deus Omnipotens to explain the historical accuracy of what he encounters, such as the relics of St. James, who, according to tradition, brought the Good News to the Iberian Peninsula.
Certainly Blessed John Paul II brought the Good News when he visited Compostela in 1982. So did Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
In fact, Father Markey brought along a copy of Benedict’s book Introduction to Christianity for the long walk and skillfully applies some quotes from it to the pilgrimage. Father Markey comes to see the Camino as a metaphor for life.
“An important lesson on this Camino is learning to live simply and to rely on the Lord again and again on the journey,” he writes. “On the Camino there is a rhythm, and we carry everything we need on our backs. The day is spent walking through fields, forests and farms; and one really learns to appreciate the simple things in life.
“After weeks of living like this, one starts to count on the goodness of God. He always provides the little things in life just when you need them. He is there at one’s side whispering, ‘You see. I am right here, closer to you than you are to yourself.’”
With a new discovery or lesson on every page, only one thing is missing: a few photographs from places or churches along the way.
All the same, the beautiful universal insights and lessons in this gem help us all realize how to live a blessed pilgrimage in life’s journey too.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
DISCOVERING THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
By Father Greg Markey
Roman Catholic Books, 2011
74 pages, $9.95
To order: BooksforCatholics.com