Santiago de Compostela is a famous Catholic pilgrimage site because what are believed to be the remains of St. James were discovered there. CNS photo/courtesy CaminoDocumentary.org

Speaking Out: Still learning from my Camino

By  Andrea Dsouza, Youth Speak News
  • June 26, 2019

When people find out that I’ve walked the Camino Portugués across Europe, I am often asked: What made you want to do it? When I take a moment to reflect, I cannot think of anything specific. 

I remember watching the movie, The Way, about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, and thinking, “This is a cool thing to do.” I also wanted to study abroad and found out that I could take Spanish at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. 

Being able to do the Camino and study after seemed to work together, so I put in my exchange program application at UBC and before I knew it, I was arriving in Paris and setting off on my 227-kilometre pilgrimage for three months. 

I learned so much and I wanted to share some lessons that I still carry with me today.

1. You can only walk at your own pace, not at somebody else’s. When I tried to keep up with other people on the Camino, I tired out faster and it started to hurt my body more. I truly learned what it meant to be on my own journey. When I went at my own pace, I could walk for longer and still made it to each destination in my own time. 

2. You never know whom you’re going to meet. The Camino is a reflection of the diversity in the world, not just in terms of where people come from, but in the variety of personalities that exist along this route. 

I loved not knowing if this person would be my new best friend (two of them now are) or if I would never see this person again. It made me realize that some people are destined to stay in your life for a moment or a season, while others last a lifetime. Part of not knowing is the adventure, mystery and excitement of life. 

3. One conversation can change your life. One of the most profound and personal conversations I have had was with someone I met from South Africa. His words of encouragement have stayed with me. This taught me how important it is to speak words that lift each other up instead of bring people down. 

4. You realize how little you need. I carried everything I owned in my backpack and being able to survive off of it for three months showed me that there are few material things needed to live well. 

5. You realize what does not matter. Accolades, achievements and success do not matter on the Camino. What does matter is an open heart and an open mind. 

My favourite part of it was taking the Spiritual Variant, or alternative path, from Pontevedra, Spain, and being utterly and completely alone. In those moments of fear and self-doubt, I discovered that the only appropriate response was to sing out who God was. 

If you’re lost and looking for a place to go, follow the yellow arrows and they will lead you on your own way. They will lead you home. To a home within yourself. 

(Dsouza, 23, is a fourth-year First Nations and Indigenous studies student at University of British Columbia in Vancouver.)

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