El Camino de Santiago – Le Chemin de St Jacques – The Way of St. James
by Veronique Sallin
(reprinted from COCFL Newsletter)
Six years ago, my husband and I, together with my brother and his wife, realized our longtime dream to walk part of the Way to Santiago, We chose to walk one of the four historical routes, the “Via Podiensis,” starting in Le Puy, near Lyon, France. With only seven days to dedicate to our walk, and walking six hours a day, we covered 200 of the 1600 km (1000 miles) leading to Santiago, Spain. The Pilgrimage starts with the traditional mass at the Le Puy Cathedral, where pilgrims from all over the world are reminded of the spirit of the Way: to show kindness and assistance to others and to travel with Christ, as the disciples did on the way to Emmaus.
The path struck us not only by its natural beauty, its safety and cleanliness, but also by the hospitality of the local population in these remote areas of France, where life is lived with simplicity, generosity and abundance of time. We soon found ourselves walking mostly in silence, in sheer contemplation. Our perception of nature deepened as we went, and marveled at the magnificent landscapes and God’s many living creatures. Along the way, quaint villages, churches, statues and crosses reminded us that the way has been travelled by God’s seekers for thousands of years.
After several days, the Way began to reveal its teachings. The Way serves as the ultimate metaphor for the life journey. We learn to accept what comes (hills, slopes, rain or shine) and simply focus on our walking. God, Nature, the Way and Relationships with other pilgrims become the center of all. There are no distractions, no stress, no news, and no expectations. We are just there living in the present moment, in the essential. What a training for contemplative life! I could see right there that this is the real thing. This is how life can and should be, free from our needs for security, affection, power, just accepting and contemplating what is, in union with God within and manifested in all.
The Way also taught me about overcoming fears. I first confronted each hill with anxiety, until I began to realize that I was being helped. All I had to do was trust and place one step at a time at my own pace. My fears were soon washed away and I became more and more aware of that benevolent presence within. It was a deeply healing experience. “Do not fear, I am with you always.” This was Christ’s message “experienced.”
Our Pilgrimage ended up at “The Abbey of Conques,” a medieval abbey totally preserved within the village around it. Monks there offer great hospitality and spiritual mentoring. We hope to start our next walk from there and continue on this extraordinary path to spiritual enlightenment.