St. Luke’s Group Walks The El Camino De Santiago
The Rev. Luke Fodor and five others from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown recently went on a pilgrimage on the El Camino De Santiago in Spain, experiencing all the trail had to offer. The trail is also known as “The Way of St. James.”
Fodor and his wife, Willow, as well as Danica Olson-Walter, Youth and Children’s minister; Gavin Card, Jamestown High School junior; Maria McIlvain, JHS senior; and Christopher Butler, Southwestern High School senior, undertook the spiritual and physical trek as part of “Journey To Adulthood” youth ministry curriculum, which includes a pilgrimage. Fodor said the church sends youth on pilgrimages every few years as part of the program.
In choosing the El Camino, the students and adults joined pilgrims who have made the trek for over 1,000 years.
“I’d read about it and wanted to do it for many years,” Fodor said. “Everyone’s camino is everyone’s camino. Even though you’re walking with other people, you’re always walking by yourself, too.”
While it was certainly an experience, he said the pilgrimage was meant to be difficult. The group walked 113 kilometers (or 72 miles) over a five-day stretch.
“This was not tourism,” Fodor said. “This (was) going to be some hard work.”
The group started off in Sarria, which is a popular starting point for pilgrims because the 113 kilometer path guarantees the travelers will qualify to complete 100 kilometers or more and finish the trip, earning a certificate at the end of journey, Fodor said.
Many pilgrims pass over the trail each year, but there is only an average of 900 pilgrims that travel in the month of February, he said. This made the trail a little less full, and businesses were less likely to be open. However, the travelers were able to take refuge in albergues, or hostel-like establishments along the way. After a day of walking, the group would find where they would lodge for the night, purchase goods from a market or grocery store and make dinner. This made their traveling bags lighter because they only had to carry personal items instead of carrying food and water, too, Fodor said.
The path itself was beautiful and the views were beautiful, he said. Most of the walking was through the countryside, Fodor added.
“You could experience what country life was like,” he said.
Often, the group would share the path with cows, which made for an interesting walk.
Fodor said the pilgrimage and sharing the road with others reminded him of those who had come before him, on the trail and in life.
“You know at any one moment there is someone ahead of you on the trail, and there is someone behind you,” he said. “It helped me to remember all those who had blazed a trail before me.”
Fodor said it reminded him of his grandmother in particular, and gave him a break from his daily schedule.
“I was just listening to the wind and having my own thoughts,” Fodor said. “The spiritual components are there as well, thinking of ‘How do we encounter Jesus in a deeper way?'”
As for the teens, he said the experience will be one they will remember for a lifetime. Fodor said it will be a memory they will hold on to, and come back to later in life. “I think the kids got the sense that they were part of something bigger,” he said. “The whole church was praying for them, which was needed some days. You could feel the prayers pulling them along some days.”
Fodor said the journey brought to mind a quote from the poem, “Somewhere” by R.S. Thomas, a Welsh Anglican Priest.
“‘As has been said, the point of traveling is not to arrive, but to return home laden with pollen you shall work up into the honey the mind feeds on,'” he quoted.
In the same sense, the travelers were made to realize that the world is rich and beautiful, Fodor said.
“It is a raw experience they are collecting for future times,” he said. “It’s inherently valuable to see the depth and the breadth of things. Whatever you can do to convert people from a smaller mindset to a bigger mindset is the work of God.”
The others in the group shared their thoughts and feelings on the trip as well. Largely, the pilgrims said they took away a great life lesson from the experience.
Olson-Walter said her walk on the El Camino was a great paradox to her.
“As I was praying to God for strength and enlightenment, I was receiving prayers from our congregation for the same things,” she said. “As I was thinking that I couldn’t go any further, I was putting one foot in front of the other. As I was gaining new pain, old wounds were healing and will continue to heal long beyond the life of my blisters. As I was building up our youth and encouraging them to keep going, they were echoing my words to reassure me.”
Olson-Walter said she also tried to reflect, but also stay in the moment during the experience. She felt as if she were being “stripped down to bare essentials,” while also gaining a lot from the experience.
“As I was grateful that we were almost finished, I wished that we had done the whole thing,” Olson-Walter said. “As I was saying that only a masochist would do something like this, I was also contemplating a future Camino. Even now, I am too overcome to know exactly what the walk meant for me, but my mind cannot stop thinking about it. The Camino doesn’t just finish in Santiago, it is something you carry with you for life.”
Willow Fodor said she felt blessed to walk the Camino with her group.
“The Camino strips us down to essentials: what we eat, what we wear and our companions along the way,” she said. “I am so blessed to be traveling this journey with five of the most resilient, caring and funny people I have ever met.”
Butler said the walk was a physical and mental challenge, but the group pushed through no matter what. He said they ended up leaving the El Camino with a better understanding of themselves.
Likewise, McIlvain, said she took a lot away from the experience.
“I learned that no matter what, life goes on,” she said. “You can’t expect anyone to get you places without you putting in work.”
Card also pointed out walking through the pain was a lesson he learned as well.
“Although my feet were hurting, my mind was healing,” he said. “I feel closer to everyone, including myself.”