The Aussie Camino is one of a suite of pilgrimage and spiritual formation opportunities which are on offer this year for Catholic Schools staff.
The first group will begin their Camino in Lent on 2 April, whilst the second group departs during the Easter season on 22 April. Covering 230km, the pilgrimage will take 7 days to complete.
The pilgrimage begins in Portland, Victoria, and concludes in Penola, South Australia, connecting two significant places in the life of Saint Mary MacKillop.
The Camino begins with a Mass in Melbourne at the Cathedral after which the pilgrims are presented with their scallop shell (a traditional symbol of Camino pilgrims) and sent on our way with our guide book and passport.
We travel to Portland to stay overnight and commence the pilgrimage early the next day. We begin each day with a short prayer and head off for a 25km – 35km walk through the Australian countryside. The first few days follow the coastline from Portland to Port MacDonnell. We then head north to Penola via Mt Gambier.
Founded in 2013, the Aussie Camino began with an official group of pilgrims who completed the voyage in 2014. Connected with the life of Mary MacKillop, the Camino starts in Portland where St Mary’s family lived for many years and where she had her last lay teaching post.
Penola, of course, is where she took the veil as a Sister of St Joseph and began the first Josephite school. However, the Camino is not only about St Mary, nor are we following any historical trail that St Mary herself is known to have travelled.
We will be joining other pilgrims from around the country, coming together for all sorts of reasons. Many of us have been in “training” by completing some walks prior to the pilgrimage.
Religious Education and Spirituality Officer, Bernadette Gibson, said, “The Camino will certainly test all of us who participate in it. I know there will be pain, exhaustion, awe and laughter.
“I hope that there will be wonderful moments of fellowship, deep conversations about our lives, soul searching about our place in the world, a relationship with the landscape and country through which we walk and a growing appreciation for the sacrifices, gift and heritage which Mary MacKillop bequeathed to us. Creation becomes the Scripture of God’s revelation and presence in our lives.”
The Camino gives you the opportunity to reflect on all parts of your life and certainly brings you closer to the special people in your lives and especially to your God. I am looking forward to the solitude of walking on my own, both physically and mentally. Even though we start the day as a whole group, the different speeds at which people walk will soon see the group string out along the day’s trail.
I am looking forward to the comradery and the connections made with other people that occurs along the way. I will be reflecting on the words of Micah (6:8): “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” as I follow the route.
The pilgrims will collect ‘sellos’ (stamps) along the way which track the places we stop. Upon completion of our pilgrimage, we are presented with our compostellas (certificates). In Penola, we also visit the Mary MacKillop interpretive centre and celebrate Mass the following morning before we head back to Melbourne and home again.
Participating in this Camino gives me the opportunity to reflect on my vocation as a Catholic School Principal, especially in the context of why Mary MacKillop chose to become a nun and on her calling to educate children in a Catholic setting.
The pilgrimage will give me a fuller understanding the commitment Mary MacKillop made in her vocation and to her faith journey and how my commitment meets the challenge she puts to us all who wish to follow in her footsteps.