Up Front and Personal

Way of St. James Was Profoundly Spiritual

by Anthony Foti

El Camino or The Way is a pilgrimage through the northern Spanish countryside ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. When Msgr. Kieran Harrington, diocesan Vicar for Communications, asked me to go on this pilgrimage he told me the Camino is a representation of life, a profound spiritual experience. I was very excited except for the fact that I am an asthmatic who suffers daily from anxiety. Often, I have difficulty climbing the stairs in the subway. How could I walk 15-25 miles a day? The day of the trip came; I was introduced to the 11 strangers I would be walking with. Little did I know how a walk could transform strangers into friends in a matter of days.

On the first day, we rose at 5:45 a.m. and began our 15-mile walk out of the town of Sarria. Right from the start I found myself walking up steep hills in the pitch-black forest. Twenty minutes into the walk I experienced shortness of breath due to anxiety. I slowed my pace, breathing slowly, trying to stay calm. Prayer has always been a powerful antidote to physical and mental suffering in my life so I started praying the Rosary, asking my mother to pray for me. I engaged in deep prayer with Jesus asking for His help as well as invoking St. Luke (the patron of physicians) asking for his powerful intercession. Within the hour, my anxieties had vanished and I was filled with calmness and a profound trust in God’s presence.

Each day the Camino presented different challenges and rewards. At some points, I walked alone with just my thoughts. At other times, I walked with my group, as we encouraged and helped each other. The landscape was constantly changing: from thick forest to farmland, small medieval village to modern, urban town. Sometimes the road was easy and the views amazing. At other times, it was just an uphill road in the intense Spanish sun.
By the end of the week-long pilgrimage, as I reflected on the walk, I could recount three major lessons: Dependence, Service and Trust in God.

Dependence: I never really placed much importance on money, material things or luxuries. The Camino awakened me to how I really depend on the material after a week of walking through the woods, sleeping on cots and washing my clothes in the bathtub every night. I realized that many of the things I thought I needed and took for granted, I didn’t need at all.

Service: Though I always try to put the needs of others before my own I often find myself focusing solely on myself. This is particularly true when it comes to physical discomfort due to anxiety and breathing difficulties. As I walked with my group I realized that in helping my friends physically as well as mentally, I completely forgot about my own needs. I found much greater satisfaction and meaning in putting others before myself.

Trust in God: Often I try to overcome obstacles relying solely on my own intellect and reason, and every time this leads to failure, despair and worry. I learned to trust in God to guide me past the hills and heat during the Camino. I have clearly come to a greater realization that God will help me through trials and suffering if I trust in Him, live in a way pleasing to Him and constantly stay connected to Him through prayer.

The words of Msgr. Harrington describing the Camino as a profound spiritual experience that represented life mean something much greater to me now than when I had first heard them. This physical walk through Spain didn’t just bring me to Santiago, but to a greater love, trust and relationship with God.

Anthony Foti is an IT technician at The NET.

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2 thoughts on “Way of St. James Was Profoundly Spiritual

  1. Anthony well said! As a member on the Camino with you, you did a great job at capturing the walk. I am grateful for this experience and totally agree with your closing sentence. The walk did more than get me to Santiago, it did bring me or connect me in a deeper way with Christ. I relive moments from the camino daily, as though its still teaching me lessons. It is such a blessing. My desire to seek Christ has only increased or perhaps re -awakened. I found God speaking to me through many of the pilgrims in our group, and mostly in silence. Its an experience I highly recommend and one that can only be lived, words cannot fully capture the experience.