Pilgrimage noun/ˈpɪlɡrəmɪdʒ/. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word is Middle English from Provençal pelegrinage or pelegrin. It means to take a journey to a place of particular interest or significance, either a holy place for religious reasons or a site connected with someone or something you admire or respect. People go on pilgrimage in search of meaning about self, others, nature, or higher good. Cultures from the world over have this practice since ancient times, often for personal transformation spiritually.
For the Muslims, it is the Hajj to Mecca, for the Tibetans, it is the travel to Lhasa; and for the Hindus, it is to the Ganges; etc. Asked the elders around you, you may be surprised to find more destinations than what you think you know. Indeed, pilgrimage is part of humanity’s DNA because we desire to search for the meanings of our lives.
Well-known to the Europeans, Santiago de Compostela is the gathering place of Catholic pilgrims for more than a thousand years. Multiple routes lead to the destination, notably with starting points from Holland, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Italy, France and Portugal. Pilgrims visit ancient sites and immerse in beautiful landscapes as they follow the footsteps of those before them and the “scallop” shells’ markings.
For some, the journey can take many months on foot, but with today’s modern transportations, more are joining beyond Europe, from North and South America, Asia, and even as far as Australia.
With my best friend, I did the Camino in 2010. It was an adventure. I was curious about the site after reading Paulo Coelho’s books, and I was also fascinated by the history of Medieval Europe and the knights’ tales. I must admit the trip was more to tick-off my travel bucket list than a real spiritual pilgrimage. Ten years after, the self-reflection and the more profound discovery only came to me now.
Finally, I realise life itself is a pilgrimage since the day we were born. We each have our own route or our Camino, some given, some chosen. Some of us travel from our birthplace to new destinations at different moments of our lives. Despite the multiple and different routes, we will eventually arrive at the same destination, the discovery of our souls. As we journey on, there will be people who join us and leave us at different times, some we may create special bonds, and some we may never see them again, just like the companions we meet at the Camino de Compostela.
The Camino essentially is an inward spiritual journey, more so than the strenuous physical one. We each will have one to walk. It may not be Santiago, Lhasa, Mecca, or Jerusalem, but it is our everyday life. We meet and interact with people who come on and get off our paths in our lives. We experience challenges, joy and sorrow, triumphs and failures, just like the pilgrims of ancient times.
Our Camino is only meaningful when we are able to appreciate the scenes (sceneries) and bond with the companions we meet along our journey. By focusing on the essence of what life gives us versus what we want, we will find our souls, get closer to our true selves, and become more at peace with who we are.
For the Chinese, in Taoism, the word: Tao/Dao,”道 means “The Way.” The word denotes the path we take as we live our lives. Voila, I’ve finally understood why I went to Santiago de Compostela and traced “The Way of St. James.” Yes, it is the destination of a journey and the start of another. My Camino will always be here with me, in my heart, and I am walking it every day with every breath I take!
To you, my friends: Whichever Camino you choose to take in your life, I hope you enjoy your journey. Welcome the companions who cross your path; however different they may be because they will be part of the story of your Camino.