Pilgrimages in the past were undertaken as a penance and intended to involve great effort and suffering. They are physical journeys with a spiritual intent or dimension and often involve carrying the hopes and intentions of many people along the journey. They are not aimless meandering but have an intended destination, which is something of a sacred site. Remove these elements and the pilgrim becomes a tourist and the pilgrimage a holiday journey. The Aussie Camino is not a holiday.
Each day we would gather to reflect upon the Gospel, remember how St. Mary of the Cross would apply the gospel in her life and work and ponder its meaning in our own time and situation. Providing spiritual input and reflection each day was an honour the group blessed me with as the pilgrimage was also a 'walking retreat'.
Whilst there were many occasions of lighthearted banter and often the battle of the favourite songs, there were also times of individual silence and perhaps struggle as we walked, plodded and trudged our way to the end of the day. Each of us carried special people with us: family members were to the fore but also members of our different groups and parishes, Men's Group, Faith & Light, Aged Care Centres and Walking Group. We carried various emblems of respect and remembrance – the pilgrim shells clinking on our packs – ribbons for victims and survivors of violence and abuse; stones and written petitions. These did not encumber us but added a sense of privilege and honour to be of service; they also encouraged us as emblems of support and aided our determination to continue.
There are many prayers that come and go during such a Camino. But for me I know that my growing awareness of God's support came more clearly into focus at the end of the pilgrimage. I didn't ever think I would be able to do such a walk. How much should I have trusted that God would walk with my every step of the way?
He was present to me in those who held back in order to keep me company at the rear of the strung out group; He was present to me in those who dressed my feet; who shared my ramblings and a glass of cold beer at the end of the day. Truly God was with us in this great adventure to honour Saint Mary of the Cross. We who set out from Cape Nelson are not the same people who ate cake at Penola.
This Article first appeared in the June 2016 Edition of In Conversation, the newsletter of the Campion Centre for Ignatian Spirituality.
Photo: Alex Garcia; Creative Commons