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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Buen Camino!": The Pilgrimage of a Secular Franciscan (Part II)

What is it like to go on a pilgrimage on foot in a foreign land? Secular Franciscan, friend and relative Patricia Dervish takes us along on The Way of St. James in northern Spain. To join her in Part I of her journey, which includes photos and a map, click here.

When we left Patricia, she wrote...

As I thought over the previous six days, I was struck by the variations for walking the Camino.  Some walked solo, some in pairs, some in groups.  Some couples walked hand in hand.  Some groups parted and came together again at rest stops, or other bends in the road.  I saw two companions with a piece of rope tied to each of them as they dragged their gear in a travel wagon.  I saw another couple aiding each other as they carried their octogenarian bodies over rocky, rough spots.  Other pilgrims walked when they could and caught a ride on the Lugo road when they tired. I spent one morning with a woman who walked all the way from France with a pack on her back.  In contrast, I met a group of Canadians who had guides and a van.  The van carried their bags, and the guides checked on them as they walked along, providing historic information about the specific area we were traveling through, and preparing picnic lunches in various shady groves.  I treasured all encounters. So many variations on the Camino, echoing the variations in our human family.

And now, Part II of
"Buen Camino!":The Pilgrimage of a Secular Franciscan

by Patricia Dervish

At sunset I sat at the feet of St. Francis, part of the iconic monument in Monte de Gozo, and looked from the mountaintop to the city in the near distance, reflecting on  my spiritual path.  Each day I poised a question to myself, to hold in my heart, and in the sacred space of the journey.  I had reflected on gratitude, on God’s treasures in the created world, on the sacrificial life, on penance, on surrender, on friendship, on gifts, on the balance of action and contemplation in my life, on peacemaking, on my unique sacred tasks, on the living presence of our God.  On the mountaintop looking to  Santiago, I was filled with joy and a profound sense of peace.

The iconic monument on Monte de Gozo,
where I reflected on my spiritual path.
At daybreak of the seventh day, I walked the last three miles from Monte de Gozo to Santiago slowly.  I looked forward to the Pilgrim’s Mass, to the chance to explore the ancient town, and to receive my compostela.  I did not want to hurry, however, since I was reflecting on how I was going to carry the lessons of the Camino and this retreat back into my life.  There were so many things I learned and I struggled then, as I do now, to summarize.  But, I will try for they are gifts to me from the Camino. 

I received the gift of gratitude.  Great, great gratitude for all that is, all that has been, and all that is to come.  I was, and am now, so grateful for the strength and endurance of my body, for the kind “friends for the road” that I met along the way, for every bit of food and water offered so generously by the Galicians, for all of creation that sang to me, buzzed around me, sheltered me in downpours, cushioned me in falls, for the gifts of joy and love that the Spirit offered through each one I met.  Thank you, God, thank you.

I was gifted with a deeper understanding of myself and my life.  The Franciscan Rule calls us to a radical inner conversion.  I embraced that call even more deeply on the Camino, understanding more fully the lessons of one of my spiritual teachers that a radical inner conversion will reorganize my internal reality, reorder my relationships, and redirect my path as it unfolds before me.

The Camino taught me that the path is made as we walk it.  I didn’t know the Camino before I got on it.  I didn’t know what I would encounter, despite some great pictures shared by pilgrims on the social networks.  And despite the fact that I have been a long distance walker for a long time, my physical training for the pilgrimage did not go well.  I broke a bone in my back in one fall, radically dislocated a finger in a second, and seriously bruised both knees in a third.  I felt out of shape and fragile and doubted my ability to walk even seven miles, let along seventy.  But I learned, once again, that we don’t have to show up for the tasks of life in perfect shape.  We just need to show up.  We just need to be there, be present, and be ready to take the next steps as God unfolds them.

Everyone enjoyed the kind hospitality of the locals,
who provided for us in simple but meaningful ways.
I was gifted with a powerful sense of connectedness to others.  Our world seems to thrive on competition.  The Camino is different.  It thrives on cooperation.  Pilgrims on the Camino, strangers for the most part, became friends for the journey.  We shared food, water, information, and intimate sleeping space where forty or more tired bodies breathed together, almost rhythmically, for eight or so hours a night.  We also shared silence, a deep silence in our walking and sleeping that strangers often do not share.  A connectedness formed, and this connectedness to each other nurtured our connectedness to God.

God felt so present on the Camino.   Perhaps this is why Jesus retreated often to the wilderness.  Most of the days I spent in silence, since October is not a busy pilgrimage month.  The silence outside opened the space inside.  Without the usual duties, demands, and distractions of life I became profoundly aware of the presence of God all around me. I experienced a sense of moving beyond myself into the arms of our loving God. 

Protective Grace took my hand
as I found myself alone
in a forest for what seemed
to be a very long time.
As I was embraced by God I humbly received God’s most generous gifts--the gifts of grace.  Sheltering Grace hovered over me as I walked the last five miles of a day through a pelting rainstorm.  Protective Grace took my hand as I found myself alone in a forest for what seemed to be a very long time.  Radical Grace held me as I sobbed over life’s sorrows and losses.  Joyful Grace accompanied me to a hilltop sunrise.  Playful Grace urged me on to find yet another Torta de Santiago, that delicious dish of eggs, onions, and potatoes, and to rest and share stories with pilgrims in the cafĂ©.  Poetic Grace read with me the poems of St. Francis that I carried in my pack.  Prayerful Grace prayed with me by the quiet streams and kneeled with me in the fern covered forests.  Invitational Grace awakened in me an awareness of God’s Living Presence within my own being and urged me to enter into the sacred space with the Holy Mystery, and to know that from that sacred space all of life flows.

I will return to the Camino.  But until that time, I offer to all I meet its greeting – “Buen Camino.”   Good journey, my fellow sojourner.  May peace and safety and well being and joy be your companions for the day.  Buen Camino.

If you would like further information about Patricia's pilgrimage or how you can plan your own pilgrimage along The Way of St. James, contact her at


  1. Lovely post! I've been to Santiago de Compostela several times and feel as though the cathedral is a part of my heritage, but have not walked more than a little bit of the camino. By the way, the potato, onion, and egg dish you refer to is called tortilla espanola. The torta de Santiago is an almond cake.

  2. So beautifully written! I felt as if I were there with you. Your faith and strength are an inspiration.


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