Committing to the pilgrim’s route has been a source of renewal for those ready to put their lives on hold and spend days, weeks or even months crossing Spain along the Camino de Santiago, a journey which takes hikers into the reported burial place of the apostle St. James.
However, after a year of being kept off the Way of St. James due to pandemic-related traveling restrictions, soul-searchers hoping to heal wounds left by the coronavirus are once more strapping on backpacks and after trails marked with a seashell logo to the shrine in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
Some travelers taking to the Camino are like Laura Ferrón, whose marriage ended during Spain’s lockdown and who worries she might lose her job because the bank she works for plans massive layoffs. She and two lifelong friends flew out of their homes in Spain’s North Africa enclave of Ceuta to spend a week walking the final 100 km (62 miles) of their pilgrimage route.
“This can help you let it go. This pandemic has taught us to give more importance to what we have and also to have a good long look at yourself,” Ferrón, 33, said while resting on a rise near Arzúa. The village at the green hills of northwest Spain is about two days away in the medieval Palace in Santiago that is the conventional end point.
The Camino de Santiago is actually a collection of paths that fan out beyond the Iberian Peninsula and spread across Europe. Whichever route one chooses, they all end in the Santiago’s baroque cathedral, where believers could see what is reportedly the tomb of James, the apostle who, according to Catholic tradition, brought Christianity into Spain and Portugal.
The pilgrimage has its own origins at the alleged discovery of this grave at the 9th century. Pilgrims have come to Santiago for a millenium, but the amount of both believers and non-believers making the excursion prospered in recent years following regional governments revived the route.
It’s now supported by a large community of spiritual and civic organizations and served by public and private hostels at costs for all pocketbooks.
Over 340,000 people from all over the world walked”El Camino” in 2019. Only 50,000 walked last year, when Spain blocked both overseas and domestic travel except for during the summertime.
Before a state of emergency which limited travel between Spain’s regions stopped on May 9, just a handful of Spanish pilgrims were coming in Santiago each day and registering with the Pilgrim’s Reception Office to get their official credential for being finished the pilgrimage.
A few hundred arrive at Santiago daily, in contrast to the many thousand exhausted pilgrims swinging their walking sticks across the town’s cobblestone streets through a typical summer.
Spain’s Health Ministry has reported the deaths of over 79,000 people from COVID-19. As it did around the world, the disease took its largest toll on the nation’s oldest residents.
“For older people, 1 year old pandemic has felt like five,” Naty Arias, 81, said while walking the Camino with her 84-year-old husband and two of their daughters. “And like my husband claims, we do not have that much time anyway, so we need to take advantage of it.”
The quantities of pilgrims arriving in Santiago within the following year-and-a-half will likely be promoted following Pope Francis extended the 2021 holy season dedicated to St. James during 2022. For Roman Catholics that get involved in this pilgrimage, walking during a Jubilee Year gives them the opportunity to get the plenary indulgence, which grants them the full remission of the temporal punishment for their sins. The last Jubilee Year for the trail was in 2010.
Santiago Archbishop Julián Barrio stated he’s cautiously optimistic that some 300,000 pilgrims could turn out this season, as long as the speed of Spain’s vaccination plan as well as the health situation worldwide continues to improve. He anticipates many to come looking solace in the pain of this pandemic.
It’s a space that helps us regain our inner peace, our stability, our soul, which undoubtedly we all want, given the difficulties that we have in confronting the pain and the ravages of the pandemic that occasionally leave us speechless,” Barrio told The Associated Press.
Daniel Sarto, 67, joined three buddies on the road, looking to unwind after months of anxiety from seeing his Barcelona-based trade show firm bring in zero revenue.
Psychologically, it is very sad always thinking that this really is going nowhere, about what will happen to our own workers,” Sarto explained. “That is a relief being here, with no doubt. My wife told me I had to get out of the home. I needed to come.”
Mental health experts agree that the pilgrimage may result in psychological healing for both faithful Roman Catholics and also the significant number of non-Catholics who are drawn to create one. Dr. Albert Feliu, a health psychologist and lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said preliminary results from a survey of 100 pilgrims stage to a decrease in tension and depression that surpass those seen after routine vacations.
The survey was a part of a study of the benefits of walking the Camino de Santiago being performed by clinical research from universities in Spain and Brazil. Manu Mariño, the manager of Quietud Mindfulness Center at Santiago, is also involved in the study. He’s gone to the pilgrimage 24 times.
“The Way of St. James is an excellent place to help us realize that suffering forms part of life, which our anguish is dependent upon how we relate to what we are undergoing,” Mariño explained. “You learn how to live with just what is necessary, which means just what it is possible to carry in a backpack.”
For Vala, the stunt has one positive facet among all of the misery, he believes dovetails with the experience of walking, mostly by himself, day after day throughout the countryside.
“People were lonely and they needed to face themselves (during the pandemic),” Vala said after going to the cathedral. “And I think the Camino is (about) confronting yourself in its own significance. Therefore it comes together quite close. It is amazing and hard.”
The recently divorced Ferrón had a similar assessment.
“The road is good for your mental health because all this can drive anybody mad, being wrapped up, the anxiety, the psychosis,” she explained. “Some climbs are extremely tough, but at the end of the day you reach your goal and after that you’ve got the reward of some cold beer, which is divine.”