by Luke Romanchuk, Class of 2014
On May 24th, my three classmates and I, along with faculty from Gregory the Great Academy and a Melkite priest, joined a group of four seminarians from St. John’s Seminary in Boston to make a pilgrimage along the Camino Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Our plan was to walk from Leon to Santiago in two weeks. In what has become an Academy tradition, we took absolutely no money for the Way of St. James. Our only resources were the unique skills that GGA had taught us. In this case they helped us to put on a darned good juggling show and allowed us to spread our Christian joy to others. We walked with the faith that God would inspire our audiences to generously open their wallets to us poor beggars, and they sure did.
Personally, and I think I speak for the whole group when I say this, I had expected to go to bed on an empty stomach or to sleep in the cold rain nearly every night, and to only occasionally spend the night in an albergue (hostel). I was, as it turned out, dead wrong: we must have had the Blessed Mother on our side because we hardly ever had to buy our own dinner due to people’s astonishing magnanimity. This became a common reoccurrence: we would perform shows in a town and receive generous donations, but then just as we would sit down to buy ourselves dinner, our waiter would say: “That table just paid your check!” Additionally we only needed to sleep outside a few times, one of which was on an absolutely freezing mountaintop surrounded by fog – but for most of the pilgrimage we were blessed to sleep indoors. I believe three things that paved the way for us were the grace of God, our trust in His Providence, and the wonderful priest and seminarians who accompanied us.
From a Journal Entry of Andrew Davidson, Class of 2014
Day 6 of walking… We were supposed to do 33k today but we stopped to do a juggling show after 23. The Canadians stayed with us the whole day out of O Cebrero. We did a full show for the first time in a day or two, felt like forever. But these people were all new to us so they had never seen it before. They loved us. 200 Euro show. But then we couldn’t even spend our money because some really nice Australian people bought dinner for us. Naturally we sang for them, “South Australia” and anything else we could think of that mentioned Australia. They even knew some of the words. After dinner it was 9pm and we had 10k to go. We are staying here tonight. We got an albergue but Doetsch and I are going to sleep outside. It’s a perfect night. The stars are looking stellar. A perfect way to be on Camino, walking all day, juggling and singing in town and then sleep out under the stars in a field in Spain.
The priest and the seminarians were a really fun group to be around, and the effect that they had on our fellow pilgrims was outstanding. The religious walked the entire Camino in their cassocks, weather notwithstanding, and when they had the opportunity they would evangelize to other pilgrims as they walked. Even if they were not directly evangelizing, their presence on the Camino was a good witness of to anyone who saw them. Sadly, aside from them we only saw one other priest walking the Camino.
Each day we celebrated the Divine Liturgy with our priest, Fr. Christopher Manuele, in the beautiful chapels and churches along the trail. We even were able to celebrate the liturgy at the tomb of St. James itself in the Cathedral of Santiago.
The walk itself had its challenges – like blisters, sunburn, and shin splints. However, we were blessed with beautiful weather along the pilgrimage. We were only rained on a couple times out of the entire trip, which made for ideal walking conditions, especially on mountains. Mountains proved to be hard going downhill for everyone except me – I rode a bicycle on the Camino since I broke my ankle six weeks prior to the pilgrimage. I must say that flying down a mountain at high speeds is dangerous but a lot of fun.
However, although the walking and biking was physically tough, the whole Camino was marked by spiritual simplicity. Our daily routine came down to celebrating the Liturgy, walking our thirty to forty kilometers, praying along the way, and juggling for our dinner. This simplicity truly made it easy to draw ourselves closer to Our Lord and grow in our faith in God, that He really does provide for our needs. Making the transition back to my normal life from something so simple and holy was very disconcerting, but it has truly left me with an experience and a memory to cherish.
Photos from along the Way of St. James