Pilgrimages, mystery and our camino

Santiago de Compostela and St James, the apostle, are linked in mystery and lore that rivals the legends of King Arthur. A mysterious un-manned ship taking his body back to Spain to a secret burial?

Was St James in Spain? He was beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem in 42 AD. He did visit Spain in AD 40 where Mary appeared to him at Saragossa and encouraged his evangelization efforts.

The disciples of James are said to have taken his body back to Spain where he did so much evangelizing. Lore has it that there was a mysterious ship that brought James back to Spain where he was secretly buried for centuries. 

His body was found because of a mysterious light at a place called Campus Stellae, or Field of the Star. In time this was shortened to Compestella, and since St James in Spanish is Santiago, the site became Santiago de Compestella. (Source: The Word Among Us, July/August 2019)

Today many pilgrims traverse the camino, or path, the Saint travelled in Spain. We all have a path to follow in life and with the help of the saints we can draw closer to God as we journey.

St Francis of Assisi is said to have walked to the burial site of St James in 1214. At the time Francis was developing his new religious order. Tradition has it that Francis was hosted by a poor local family during his pilgrimage.

“When Francis asked the family’s father to build a monastery, he replied that he had no funds. The humble man from Assisi led him to a treasure buried at a nearby hermitage. A Benedictine monastery gave them the land to build the monastery in exchange for an annual basket of fish, which the friars continued to remit until the end of the 18th century.” (Alletia, July 25, 2019)

In truth, various sites along the Camino are associated with St. Francis, and there exists even today a Camino di Francesco that follows a path similar to what St. Francis might have taken during the 13th century. 

St. John Paul II reminded us of the spiritual impact of pilgrimages when he anticipated his visit to Santiago De Compestela for World Youth Day in August 1989: “Jesus is for us a way that leads to the Father - the оnlу Way. Whoever wants to reach salvation must set out along this way.”

St John Paul challenges us: "The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly… must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ."

John Paul challenged young people in particular to represent the Churches of the whole world; “you will all be hеirs to the ‘Santiago Trail’ with the urge to proclaim the Good News.” 
“Be on your way, then I say to all of you, young pilgrims of the ‘Santiago Trail’. During the pilgrimage days, try to recapture the spirit of the pilgrims of old, courageous witnesses to the Christian Faith. As you journey on, learn to discover Jesus, who is our Way, Truth and Life. “(From the Vatican, 27 November 1988)
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By Ken Rolheiser