Last year was probably the busiest year of ministry that I ever did have in my 25 years of serving God as an ecclesial minister. It was, after all, the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope-emeritus Benedict, celebrated from October 11, 2013 until November 24, 2013. I was entrusted by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin with the joyful task of providing ample opportunities for the people of God in our Diocese to “rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.” (Porta Fidei, 2).
In preparation for this Year of Faith, my colleagues and I read the Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei. We were struck by Pope Benedict’s warning that the gift of faith cannot be taken for granted and that the Year of Faith was intended to help all rediscover the rich content of our Creed, renew our act of Faith and recommit oneself to being a living witness to Christ in our daily walk.
During my prayer time, as I surveyed the year to come and what it might entail ministry wise, I also reviewed what the year would hold for me personally. In this glance forward, I recognized that during this same time frame, there would be a convergence of significant anniversaries and jubilees in my own personal life. These included the 50th anniversary of my birth, 30 years of my consecration to Jesus through Mary, 25 years in ministry, and five years of service in the Diocese of Providence. In light of these personal milestones, I wished to give God thanks and praise for the many blessings he has showered me with throughout my life and ministry. I also knew that I could not let the Year of Faith pass without intentionally renewing and strengthening the gift of faith given me. And this is when I decided to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) as a pilgrim.
I would go on pilgrimage in the true sense of the word. Pope Benedict XVI, in his own visit to Santiago in 2010, said that to make a pilgrimage is to “step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor….” (Address at the Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela)
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route from France to the tomb of the Apostle St. James the Greater in Galicia, (northwestern part) Spain. Tradition has it that the saint is buried in what is now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostelo. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have been traveling this route in prayer and sacrifice, seeking silence and shaking off the torpor which may have taken hold of their mind and heart. For myself, I wanted to heed the invitation Pope Benedict XVI extended in the Year of Faith “that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us.” (Porta Fidei, 15)
So I set out to plan my journey on the Way of St. James. In hindsight, I realized I gained a new understanding into what it means that the Church herself is a pilgrim and accompanies us along our sojourn through life. Many people helped me prepare for this pilgrimage, from those who let me borrow a backpack and other gear, to those who walked with me in training, friends who gave me tips from their own pilgrimage and all those who prayed for me to keep me safe and healthy. On August 12, 2013, with the support of many and six pounds of prayer intentions gathered from colleagues, family, and friends, I boarded the plane to begin the first leg of the pilgrimage. Little did I know what lay in store for me physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Next post: The Top 10 Things I Learned on My Camino
Lisa Gulino is Director for the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation in the DIocese of Providence and teaches ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.