Camino Companions is an FCJ project in Santiago de Compostela to offer pilgrims a space to articulate and find meaning at the end of their Camino. One of the project volunteers, Sr Joan, a member of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph, from Ireland, reflects on her experience of being a pilgrim and of welcoming pilgrims in Santiago.
That first sighting of the Cathedral spire was exhilarating as I descended into Santiago de Compostela. A feeling of quiet joy after a week’s walking and after the many years when I’d had in mind to ‘do’ the Camino. At that moment, all those Buen Camino wishes along the route from Sarria came to fruition!
Once in the heart of the old city, my bag still on my back, all I could do was stand in awe. Surrounded by buildings, majestic and beautiful; immersed in the excitement of the crowds of arriving pilgrims, in all their diversity… I was lost for words and even for what to do next! A good first move, I said to myself, would be to find my accommodation. That done, I thought, I’ll then explore my new surroundings, as I’m always eager to do in a new place.
What a surprise it was to quickly realise that I did not have any of the usual zest and excitement for getting out and about to ‘see the sights’. It was as if the rhythm of days of walking and silence had become part of me. In that moment, as I wondered what to do next, I suddenly recalled having heard how, at the end of the Camino, it was possible to meet with others and reflect on the experience. And that led me to the Camino Companions! What I discovered was a warm welcome and a space in which to share with those who, like me, had just finished their Camino. Listening and speaking with people of all ages and backgrounds, sharing many things … why we had gone on the Camino, what had stood out on the way, how we were looking toward returning ‘home’. All helped me deepen and begin to integrate my own experience and was, I later realised, the crossing point to continuing the Camino, even when the walking had finished.
That was in 2015! Since then I have been privileged to join the small team of volunteers who welcome English-speaking pilgrims, and others, to reflect and share, in a group or individually, on what their Camino has meant for them. And that always with a good cup of tea or coffee! Not only do those encounters recall my own Camino but they never fail to inspire and enrich the ongoing Camino of my everyday life.
Photo: Camino Companions volunteers Joan and Alicia fcJ, in blue t-shirts, with pilgrims from Philippines, Indonesia, Ireland and USA in Room 6 of the Pilgrims Reception Office in Santiago de Compostela.