It’s apparently an 800km walk through a variety of terrains, mountains and villages. The Pyrenees scare me, especially if you’ve watched any movies or documentaries about the seventy-degree incline, quick changing weather conditions, and recommendations of “highly recommend reading the book but not so much doing the pilgrimage”. No wonder they call it the Trail of Pain.
Nonetheless, I’m bizarrely hooked. Now that I’ve planted this seed in my head, I feel a pulling that I simply cannot ignore. I’ll keep you posted….
Meanwhile, for those of you who are not yet inspired to travel to the other side of the world, place your body in a state of complete physical exhaustion and suffer the consequences of possible hypothermia, blisters and muscle cramps over the period of more than a month, perhaps a gentler pilgrimage closer to home might suit?
The aMeN CaMiNo offers an opportunity to become a local pilgrim in your own diocese, to encounter God through nature, to escape from the busy-ness of life and to connect with others. During this one-hundred-kilometre experience (note one hundred not eight hundred) you will walk with others over a variety of terrain, exploring bush, beach, lake and mountains. As the days pass and you experience self-emptying, an awakening of the senses is heightened, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the wonder and awe of God’s creation. There will be many moments to reflect, pray, journal and be still, all within our very own Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
Natalie Day, a teacher working in our diocese, recalls a screaming doubt that kept on pestering her. It wasn’t until she learnt to let go and say yes to the invitations and connections, that she realised how strong her spirit could become through the immersion of pilgrimage:
“This year I went on the aMeN caMiNo at the beginning of July. At the same time the rain clouds over the NSW east coast were beginning to gather. A group of six pilgrims and three guides met at St Johns Chapel in Maitland to hear from Mark Spencer, whose stories illuminated us with how the early foundations of our Catholic Church began. Meeting in the quiet Church we were reminded of the recent passing of Bishop Bill and prayed together for a safe journey. We strolled up to the Hunter Riverbank and admired its steady flow and began our excited conversations about the possibilities of the journey to come.
I mentioned those clouds gathering for a reason because during this Camino experience our doubts were gathering at the same speed. I kept asking myself the same question ‘Can I weather this storm during the remaining days?’ The second day was the toughest. I was wrapped up in my wet weather gear and under an umbrella but still the rain crept in. Most of us were saturated and soaked, yet the journey ahead was still long. It was then at the top of that first mountain peak, huddled together under some shelter that we as a group decided to press on.
Press on we did, for the remaining time we as a group faced some tough walking conditions but each of us spurred on the other just at the right time. Peeling off the wet clothes, warming up by the big fire, enjoying a sip of wine, the taste of delicious food all made the better from having been out in mother nature’s storm. Facing our doubts made us stronger for the next time we see such a stormy time. And now I will go for a walk when there’s a little rain! Why not! It’s just water!”
Sue Morgan, past school principal and founder of SIMS Cambodia, knows too well the benefits of pilgrimage.
“Pilgrimage is an age-old journey to a sacred destination, but it doesn't just have to be about the external journey. It is for me about an inner journey as well. This inner journey gives me time to have conversations with God and gain clarity on my life, big decisions and the everyday. One of the most special things about being on pilgrimage for me is the connection with fellow travellers. This oneness with others on a sacred journey is beyond words.
“By being on pilgrimage I am awakened to my own human failings, often physical but also emotional and spiritual. I don't walk in great grief about my inadequacies but seek joy in meeting the challenge and rising above my limitations. I am very aware of the beauty around me and treasure the in between moments of deep reflection as well as the conversations with other pilgrims.
“The aMeN caMiNo was one of the highlights of any pilgrimage I've done, not only because of the spiritual moments that were so very special and the opportunity to deepen my connection to God but also because it was a chance to reconnect with dear friends and form new friendships. Nothing strips you barer than a full day of walking, then having your new friends support your depleted state. On this journey I discovered my new 'favourite' places to walk and had the opportunity to do this with my husband.”
Belinda Straiton had heard whispers about the pilgrimage and her curiosity saw her buying some poles and shoes and taking off on a new adventure:
“When I heard that there was one in the Hunter I couldn’t believe it! For me I knew that it would be more than just a hike but it really didn’t register until I started. I imagined I was in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago. It was a time of real inner peace and connection with the Holy Spirit and fellow pilgrims. I got a lot of personal richness and wisdom. It was such an eye opener for me. I got so much more than I anticipated.”
Here’s what some other pilgrims had to say about their aMeN CaMiNo pilgrimage experience…
“The CaMiNo allowed time alone as well as time to reflect with others.”
“Being out in the rugged elements really put a focus on just being. One foot in front of the other.”
“I think there are a lot of people on my staff that would get a lot out of such an experience.”
“The opportunity for space for yourself in a busy time of year.”
“It’s a place to go and test yourself, let go of work for a while and connect with some great people.”
“Everyone needs to nurture their faith. The aMeN CaMiNo gives you hope that there is so much more. The experience renews and inspires you to be a hopeful people of faith.”
“Walking single file through God’s wonderous creation and the rhythm of the walk allows for reflection and prayer. It is extremely rewarding and nurturing.”
Many have joined the pilgrimage since its inception in 2018, and in the past two years the Pastoral Ministries team have worked towards providing opportunities to further build community connecting to a wider outreach. Anyone within our diocese is welcome to join others on the pilgrimage from St John’s Chapel in Maitland to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newcastle. You just need to start walking!
Amen to that!
Expression of Interest are currently open for 2023: https://forms.office.com/r/ZysE5V5Fiy
Image: Unsplash by Les Argonautes