Don't miss the theater showing this March 28!
In a wry moment from TheImitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis notes, “For a small reward, a man will hurry away on a long journey; while for eternal life, many will hardly take a single step.” With that in mind, why is it that every year hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe travel to Spain and walk hundreds of miles through the countryside for weeks on weeks just to reach the tomb of one man? Sure, that one man is St. James, one of the original 12 apostles, but if all you desired was to see where he ended up, you could easily drive there. Why walk?
In the new documentary, Santiago: The Camino Within,BishopDonald J. Hying of the Diocese of Madison poses just that question to many of his fellow pilgrims as he undertakes The Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.
For those not familiar with it, the Camino de Santiago is a collection of roads and trails scattered throughout Europe, all leading to the Santiago de Compostela Archcathedral Basilica where St. James is said to be buried. Since the 9th century when the tomb was first discovered, countless pilgrims have embarked upon a journey to walk to the site, a trek which can take over a month if begun from its farthest starting point.
The answers Bishop Hying receives to his question of “Why walk?” appear as numerous as the travelers making the pilgrimage. For some, given the destination, there are obvious religious purposes. For others it’s simply a way to connect with their fellow travelers, be they family, friends, or even strangers met along the way. Some individuals have a very personal reason for making the attempt, such as an overworked Korean couple in desperate need of physical and spiritual renewal. And then there are those who don’t exactly know why they came, but just feel it’s something they needed to do.
Whatever the reasons, it’s easy to see the attraction of the venture from a visual standpoint. The film takes time to offer long, lingering shots of the lush Spanish countryside through which the paths wind. Some of the glorious historic churches and chapels which act as waypoints along the routes are also given attention. Not that it’s all a walk in the park, mind you. A montage of scrapes, cuts, and bruises some have suffered along the journey shows that the Camino de Santiago does contain its share of small dangers. Still, all in all, it’s not the most arduous of hikes.
Well, except for the amount of time it takes to do it. Even the shortest trip of those interviewed appear to have been at least two weeks. Given long enough, even the most pleasant of journeys will have its ups and downs. In that sense, Bishop Hying explains, walking the Camino de Santiago becomes something of a miniature life journey, not only full of extraordinary beauty, but also the occasional pain and adversity which makes one reconsider continuing. In those moments, His Excellency believes, it is faith that offers the way to see the path forward.
Perhaps that’s not the most surprising conclusion a Catholic clergyman could reach, but it seems an inevitable one given the Camino’s final destination. St. James walked with Jesus, talked with him, ate with him, and eventually was martyred for him. It would be difficult to visit his final resting place without giving at least some consideration as to what purpose led him there. In that way, ponders Bishop Hying, no matter what reason brings people to the Camino de Santiago, no matter what small reward they believe will be at the end of their long journey, the undertaking is ultimately a walk towards God. But then again, isn’t most everything?
Santiago: The Camino Within will be in theaters March 28. Find tickets and more information here.