A trio with different intentions journey together from Portugal to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, also known as "The Camino" or "The Way of St James": 25 year old Neville Micallef, father of three Carm Grima and priest Jimmy Bonnici decided to join forces and experience this venture together.
Deciding to go, leaving the comfort zone
Carm had heard about the Camino through the writings of the Brazilian writer Paolo Coelho and the film The Way. He once met Fr Jimmy and they both talked about the wish to do it but it never materialised, “however, this year we decided that it’s either now or never!” said Carm.
Carm, was in charge of the route. He chose the Portughese route along the coast, and a non-summer month to avoid the heat and too many pilgrims. Carm related how he wished to do this trip with his wife but it was hard with the children, as they do not walk much. “As I prepared myself, she used to walk with me on Sundays and the children used to make half of the prepared route. Even though it was easy to communicate through skype and mobile, it was hard to leave them behind.”
Neville wanted to do this route mostly because of his passion for exercise, adventure and nature, “walking in a different country, experiencing its culture and natural environment sounded very interesting; so did the spiritual element where one can also learn about oneself, it was intriguing. It was easy to leave my country, I just found it hard to go back to Malta to leave the new friendships and most of all the simplicity of each new day.”
Fr Jimmy was enticed by the combination of a challenge, simplicity, spiritual journey with other people who are also searching in different ways. “Beyond the challenge of reaching Santiago, I wanted to journey with others and learn more about how God meets different people in different ways. I trust that in pilgrimages like these, people focus on what is basic and essential and which ultimately makes us really human. For me it was also a journey of simple contemplation, being present to life, to what is human, and thus being present to God,” he remarked.
As he packed his bags, Fr Jimmy felt that leaving behind control, comfort and security comes to the fore, “the decision about what to take and what to leave behind is crucial as one has to carry the luggage on his back while being prepared for a certain level of unknown. Finding the right balance is one of the lessons I learnt. It includes planning and trusting.”
From enthusiasm, to fatigue to finding freedom
Carm related how the idea was to walk shorter routes but ended up walking longer ones to be able to make it with the stipulated timings. “This was a bit challenging at times for the group.” Fr Jimmy added that, “it was a journey of learning to walk together as three different personalities. We have our own individual pace, our own character, our limits and our gifts. From the initial enthusiasm, the way leads to fatigue and stress, and slowly we came to learn how to accept our limits, to let go of some personal targets in order to give space for the limits of others, and keep the freedom of each.”
An enriching experience
Neville emphasised that, “the landscape of both Portugal and Spain are indeed beautiful. Top this up with the locals, very welcoming people towards foreigners. This walk has definitely contributed for a better me. I have realised even more that life is not just what you plan, but also about the newness which is presented along the way; that the journey is as important as the destination itself; that faith involves searching.”
Carm highlighted the fact that he really enjoyed the simplicity of life, “One can live with so very little things! I truly enjoyed our friendship. We talked, we thought, we laughed together. It did me so much good. At times it felt like a walking retreat; Fr Jimmy helped by presenting us with spiritual readings, saying mass with us and discussing and reflecting along the way. More than receiving the certificate of completion, I’m glad I made it till the end and that we were there for each other!”
Fr Jimmy explained that there is an interesting contrast: “while there is a sense of accomplishment attached to the Camino – reaching Santiago – doing it entails facing one’s fragility, one’s sense of limit, one aching foot (one that is far too many!!). And the importance of other people, of signs along the way, of a welcoming shelter. One moves along and meets others on the same journey, signs of people who have walked the way before, and gets connected to a 2000 year old journey starting with St James. One becomes aware of being part of something bigger. The conclusion of the Camino is about joy and not pride. And a joy that is shared: meeting people as fellow travellers who need each other, and not as competitors or isolated atoms. As one other pilgrim put it, you learn to let go of distractions and discover God present in ways we were not aware of before.”
ABOUT THE ROUTE OF THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA:
A route for different ages, abilities and backgrounds...
In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe. Hundreds of people journey each year towards the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain that includes the remains of the apostle Saint James, brought there after his martyrdom in Jerusalem. People from different backgrounds, ages and abilities take on this pilgrimage and journey for different reasons ranging from hiking to a religious pilgrimage, but somehow, they all make a journey that brings them in touch with the deeper aspects of themselves and triggers off a kind of search for spirituality, in many for God.
Which route to chose...
There are different routes. Some starting in France, others in Portugal, while others from different places in Spain. The certificate for completing the Camino requires that one has walked the last 100km to Compostela. The trio above chose to journey from Viana do Castelo in Portugal and was approximately 200km. It is possible also to do it by bike or sailing with longer distances required for the certificate to be given. For further info you can visit
Resting and sleeping...
In the villages that one reaches normally one finds a dormitory, called albergue, that is run by the council and reserved specifically for pilgrims and very cheap. There are also organisations who organise the route and carry the luggage from one B&B to the next. This enables people of different ages and abilities to do the camino.
Reflecting along the way...
Recorded daily reflections are available in Spanish to accompany the pilgrim.
Obtaining the certificate of completion...
To get the pilgrim passport, which is necessary to reside in pilgrim hostels, and to get the Compostela certificate of completion, one has to get 2 stamps/seals as proof of the journey each day. Further information can be obtained here.
Published: October 2017