Lim: Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James was, traditionally, a Catholic pilgrimage. It started from people’s homes and ended at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James, the Apostle, are believed to have been buried.

Today, the Camino de Santiago is a network of routes that start in different cities—mainly in Spain but also in Portugal and France and end in Santiago de Compostela.

The most popular route is the Camino Frances (the French Way) so-called because it starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. It goes over the Pyrenees, the mountain range that separates Spain and France, and ends in Galicia, Spain.

It is the most popular because it is so physically as well as mentally arduous that those who walk it reportedly make life-altering decisions afterwards. The entire Camino Frances, however, is 790 kilometers (km) and takes 30-35 days to walk.

Thus, most people only walk from Sarria—the last 118 km of the Camino Frances to comply with the minimum walking distance to receive the Compostela—the religious certificate in Latin dispensed by the Church to pilgrims who have walked 100 km or cycled 200 km to Santiago.

In olden times, the Compostela was a coveted document. It was proof of penance. It secured your salvation or at the very least, shortened your stay in purgatory.

Today, some still walk the Camino for religious reasons but many others walk for reasons that have nothing to do with religion: to embark on a physical adventure, to have fun with friends, to disconnect from the daily grind, to commune with nature, to connect with strangers and perhaps, also to search for answers.

Did I do it to secure my salvation? Hardly. I do not believe I can walk my way into the Kingdom of God. And while I am grateful to have walked through the holy door of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, I know there is no such thing as perpetual purification.

I know I will sully my soul with sin again—many more times in this life. Redemption doesn’t come with one act, one step, one walk. It is a lifelong journey.

I was initially attracted to the Camino because of the physical challenge it presented. But it’s been eight years since I first heard of it. And in those eight years, I’ve been on a Camino too—a different kind—but a journey all the same.

So, when I finally walked the Camino de Santiago three weeks ago, I did it with an open mind—with no expectations except to finish it alive, in good spirits and without injury. I hoped, that at the very least, I would come away with the satisfaction of having walked 118 km in 5.5 days.

I did not seek salvation, enlightenment, wisdom. The forest did not part. No winning lottery ticket fell from the sky. And I did not hear God’s voice. But walking alone in the forest for hours, I, somehow, heard mine.