The Camino de Santiago Experience of a Divine Word Missionary
(Part 5 of 5)
By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
Frater Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD hiked El Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain while fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training Program. His affinity for Saint James the Apostle led him to undertake the arduous venture. As he reaches his destination, he finds that the end is another beginning.
One of the many highlights of the pilgrimage was our last stop before reaching the cathedral: Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy). Located on the top of a hill, Monte de Gozo offers great views of the city and the tower of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The scenery gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead and motivated us to finish our journey. As the end of our journey came into view, we began to share our joy, gratitude and hope with one another. Indeed, happiness is real when shared.
Undeniably, the most unforgettable moment during the Camino pilgrimage was our arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I felt my heart rejoice in the Lord whom I believe accompanied me through the journey.
A special Bible passage came to mind, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) I remembered and felt the words of Saint Paul who may have known Saint James. Upon our arrival, my companions and I were not able to contain our inner joy. Our eyes were filled with tears as we embraced one another in appreciation.
Other pilgrims who arrived after us shouted, chanted and danced out of happiness and gratitude. We could not believe that we had arrived. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the Pilgrims’ Mass because when we arrived the cathedral was at maximum capacity. So we waited in the winding line outside where other pilgrims talked and took pictures.
After Mass, we entered the cathedral. I felt its sacred ambiance. I venerated Saint James’s tomb, located under the altar, and presented my physical and spiritual tiredness in front of the grave. I prayed that the Lord might accept all the hardships and sacrifices endured during the pilgrimage and that they may give greater glory to God.
I then went above the altar to embrace the statue of Saint James as a symbolic gesture of my petition to God—that through the intercession of Saint James, God will embrace my family, relatives, friends, loved ones and everyone for whom I promised to pray. May God take away their sufferings and bless them with joy, love, peace and hope.
I was struck by the on-going construction inside and outside the cathedral—like a metaphor or invitation for all the pilgrims on the Camino. Like the cathedral under construction, each pilgrim is called to conversion.
Each person has his or her imperfections, weaknesses, and rough edges. But when feelings of brokenness are acknowledged humbly and accepted wholeheartedly, they can be stepping stones toward life-giving gifts to others. Pilgrims are not called to go to church; we are called to become the living Church of Christ.
With my credential, a Camino passport full of different stamps from places that I passed, I got my Compostela. It is the certification, or diploma, that serves as proof that I completed the Camino de Santiago. For me, the Compostela is not simply about my arrival at the end of the Camino de Santiago. It is a remembrance of the grace-filled spiritual journey that urges me to begin a new life-long pilgrimage.
In the cathedral’s Chapel of Saint Mark, I found a pilgrim reflection guide. It offered meaningful insights and questions that helped me contemplate my experience. I read words touched me deeply: “To arrive in Santiago is not the end of our Camino. In a way, it is a place of departure. On the Camino de Santiago, as well as in life, the goals impel us to new horizons.”
Enlightened by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I believe that my arrival at the Cathedral of Saint James urges me to do something more in my life journey. I accept the invitation that I read in the pilgrim reflection guide:
“To arrive…To arrive is not to finish the path you began. To arrive is to want to carry on from the path you have walked. To arrive is to glimpse a future horizon which was nourished in the meetings and challenges along the way. To arrive is to announce that a new way of looking is present in daily life. To arrive is to perceive that everything remains the same, but you are not as you were at the beginning. To arrive is to have the wisdom to start walking again to the place this same path guides you.”
My whole Camino experience has deepened and strengthened my prayer to God. To paraphrase the words of Saint Arnold Janssen: Lord God, grant me the grace to have an open heart, to always discern anew Your divine will, and to be available, flexible, and ready to venture into new situations. Forever and ever, amen!