Good Samaritan Oblate Marie Lynch admits she’s never really been a keen walker, but from the time she first heard about the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St James), the ancient Christian pilgrim route across Spain, she was “fascinated by the idea of slowly walking to a place of pilgrimage”.
It was only later when Marie saw the 2010 film, The Way, which explores a father’s journey in search of his son who died on the Camino de Santiago, that she felt “certain” she “had to” make the pilgrimage herself.
“It called forth something within me,” Marie told The Good Oil, “courage and determination I didn’t know that I had.”
Marie, who hails from Nambour in Queensland, recently completed her 799-kilometre pilgrimage from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. And while she encountered many people along the way, the mother of four and grandmother of three did the five-week walk solo.
“I never considered walking with anyone else,” said Marie.
“I wanted to just walk and be as open as I could to the experiences – even the bad ones! If I didn’t like the food or the bed, well there was only me to suffer it and not another person to be responsible for. This was liberating for me.
“Also, I wanted quiet. It was important for me to stay within the experience itself.”
While “some days” stretched Marie to her limit physically and mentally – “and beyond sometimes” – the experience was “amazing”, “exhausting”, “joyous” and “liberating”.
Among the highlights, she said it was the people she met along the way.
“People are kind and generous and loving. Every person I encountered had the pilgrim Camino spirit. People are good!” she explained.
“In particular, I remember a French-Canadian ‘bear-of-a-man’ who picked me up out of the snow where I had fallen.”
While people embark on the Camino de Santiago for varying reasons, for Marie “it was very much a spiritual journey”.
“I don’t think that just walking up a mountain or a long trek would have the same effect. There is something precious about people making a spiritual pilgrimage,” she said.
“By spiritual, it was not so much in the way of attending formal services along the way, which were lovely, but more, ‘Please God, tell me what you want me to do? Where can I serve you?”
Marie said there were times while she was walking that she “felt the presence of earlier pilgrims around” her.
“This path has been walked by millions of others just like me. I felt like I was taking my rightful place. I felt supported and upheld, and it felt very right. It truly can be a holy pilgrimage.”
When Marie reached Santiago de Compostela she said she cried “tears of joy and relief”. “I was glad it was finished, but so very sorry it was over.”
As a result of her Camino journey, Marie said she feels “so different”.
“I have learned things about myself that continue to grow within me. It’s like there is a small perfect flame at my heart that reminds me to stay centred. I listen more closely to that ‘gentle breeze’ that is guiding me,” she explained.
“I have learned I am resilient. I can be brave and I also know when I need to rest and withdraw from the world.”
While Marie is still savouring her experience of the Camino de Santiago, another Good Samaritan Oblate, Pauline Roach of Sydney in New South Wales, will soon begin hers.
Pauline will take a similar route to Marie and will also walk solo, but she wants “to go on and off the walk”.
At a retreat for Good Samaritan Oblates earlier this year, Pauline explored the spirituality of the 16th century mystic and Carmelite nun, St Teresa of Ávila – “it was fantastic” – and has decided to make a detour to Ávila, where Teresa lived.
Walking the Camino de Santiago has been on Pauline’s ‘bucket-list’ for many years. She’s been a keen bushwalker since the 1970s, but it’s only since completing three long-distance treks in the last few years – the Milford Track in New Zealand, the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory and the Coast to Coast Walk in England – that Pauline has felt ready to do the Camino. And she’s looking forward to the experience.
“Walking is sensational because there’s no radio, there’s no Twitter, there’s no Facebook, there’s none of that stuff,” she said.
“It brings you back to reality. What do we need? What are we here for? It just makes you slow down and contemplate what’s happening in life and what’s happening with you.”
She knows there will be challenges along the way.
“In lots of ways you need to be physically strong, psychologically strong and I think spiritually strong to do this,” she said.
“But there’s ultimate pleasure just when you see some of the sunrises and sunsets, and the colours and the beauty of the place. It makes you sit back; you’re not there to take photos, you’re there to actually be there in the moment – and that’s very unusual to be in the moment [in our contemporary world].”