Dear Catholic Scouters,
National Chaplain (2013-2016)
I returned October 7th from my 500 mile walk across northern Spain on the Camino Santiago de Compostela (The way of Saint James of the field of stars). I began the trek in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France arriving on August 27th. I got a good night sleep at an Albergue, rose early in the morning before the sun rose and began walking. I had to climb over the Pyrenees Mountains (18 miles) in order to reach the first destination called Roncesvalles which literally means Valley of Thorns. Legend had it that the monastery that was once there had some of the thorns from the crown that Jesus wore on the day of his execution. I spent three days on the Camino Santiago de Compostela picking up trash that peregrinos (pilgrims) left behind. I met a Scouter from Australia while I was picking up trash and he joined in in an attempt to “LEAVE NO TRACE.”
Each morning I would rise about 5:30 AM, get my pack ready, wash up and brush my teeth, comb my hair and by 6:00 AM I was on the senda (trail). The sun did not rise until about 8:15 AM and so the first few hours was walked in the dark. I am grateful for the headlight that I wore allowing me to walk with my bastones (hiking poles) and still see where I was going. I enjoyed the early morning hikes because it gave me some time to reflect, pray and think without the distraction of fellow pilgrims.
One author suggested that the best preparation for walking the camino (way) was not preparatory hikes but to have someone beat the bottoms of your feet with a rod. My feet took a beating and even with hiking shoes, my feet were sore and I had a few blisters. I even got a shin splint outside of Leon Spain. I learned to walk with the discomfort of pain.
I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday October 1st. I visited the Cathedral of Santiago and prayed at the tomb of Saint James the Apostle. It took me 34 days to reach this destination. I had only five days of rest during the six-week pilgrimage. I met a good number of pilgrims from various countries including Australia, Poland, Spain, Canada, Central America, Japan and even the United States. Hiking the backcountry of Philmont Scout Ranch was a great preparation for walking the Camino because it helped me to know how to organize my mochila (backpack) and how to hike long distances. Now I am back to work as the pastor of Saint Joachim Church in Costa Mesa grateful for the experience of walking the way many pilgrims traveled for over the last 1,000 years.
Saint George, Patron Saint of Scouting (and Saint James the Apostle and Pilgrim), Pray for us.
Father Michael Hanifin