The Way of St. James ; Couple Make Pilgrimage across Spain to Santiago De Compostela

By Leingang, Paul | Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current), March 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Way of St. James ; Couple Make Pilgrimage across Spain to Santiago De Compostela


Leingang, Paul, Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)


Editor's Note: Paul and Jane Leingang spent the better part of two months in Spain in the Fall of 2013. They walked the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino is both a religious and a physical experience.

Jane and I adjusted our backpacks and began our pilgrimage at the 11th century monastery of Roncesvalles in Spain, near the border with France, on Sept. 6. We attended Mass the night before and received a blessing. Forty-four days and 500 miles later, we walked into Santiago.

Along the way we learned what so many spiritual writers and thinkers have affirmed, a journey is more significant than the destination. We also learned the foolishness of self-reliance and the truth that we need God. We started alone, just the two of us and came to realize we were never alone.

We carried with us everything we needed and found what we really needed was very little. We walked on paved roads and forest paths, in mountain terrain and across great flat plains, on old Roman roadways and alongside new multilane highways, into and through tiny villages and big cities. We took our daily meals at coffee bars and restaurants, or along the way from items purchased at grocery stores. We shared some evening meals in common with other pilgrims in churches. Many nights we spent in common dormitories, in clustered bunk beds with other pilgrims from all over the world - from Spain and Germany, South Africa and Australia, Canada and Chile, and dozens of other places.

We walked through the historic kingdoms and territories of Spain, the Basque Country, the provinces of Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y Leon, and ultimately arrived in Galicia, a land of Celtic culture and the location of the "Field of Stars" - the Compostela, where the body of St. James was said to have been discovered.

The legendary burial site of the Apostle James is beneath the cathedral, a place of pilgrimage for over a thousand years. We carried with us a kind of pilgrimage passport, with spaces for stamps from albergues and cathedrals and other sites along the way. Our documents also featured a pilgrims' prayer, from the Twelfth Century Codex Calixtinus, a manuscript attributed to Pope Calixtus II. The codex may be the first travel guide ever written, with five volumes devoted to travel advice, prayers, sermons and descriptions of what to see along the way.

The prayer on our passports begins with a reference to Abraham, honored by Christians, Jews and Muslims, a man and his family who were called from the homeland of Ur in Chaldea to cross into the Promised Land. This pilgrim's prayer reflects a universal request, asking God to be our companion on the way, our guide at the crossroads, our shelter on the path, our shade in the heat, our light in darkness, our comfort in discouragement, for guidance and safe arrival. It is a prayer appropriate for the life of any believer.

We walked with many other peregrinos - singles, couples and groups, many Christians, but not all. For me, as a lifelong Catholic, the Camino was an experience of our traditional teaching about the Communion of Saints - the corporate collection and connection of people, past, present and future, including my parents who have gone before us into eternity, Jane and me in the present, and our sons and our grandchildren who will live long after us.

On the Camino, we met new people every week or two, people who soon moved before us, in better physical condition, with fewer days available, or for whatever the reason. After our time together, they advanced into the future that we would experience some days later.

It ought to be easy to say why we set out to backpack 500 miles across northern Spain but it is not that simple. We have traveled in almost every one of the United States and in many countries of the world, but never had we become deeply immersed in another culture. Such a commitment became possible with the time and freedom of retirement. …

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