The Camino: A Story of Finding Oneself

By Gabbie Ramos

The Camino

The other day the doctor told me my feet changed after the Camino and that a series of x-rays was needed, but after more than a month of being home I knew my feet were not the only parts of me that changed. I’m happy I waited to write about my experience on the Camino in May 2017 because too often when we leave a retreat or a conference or a mission trip, we try to reflect from that mountaintop moment in our lives. God is close. He is vivid. Our soul is on fire. We reach spiritual ecstasy and we feel so alive before having to go back to real life. A priest recently told me that these moments where we felt close are “real life”. The busy schedule we return to that is labeled as reality by this world is not always the reality we were created for. God created us to be close to him always, to feel our hearts on fire every day and not just when do something like walk 322 km through the North of Spain on El Camino de Santiago.

The Call

So I've had time to reflect and to return to summer jobs and the day to day schedule of a college student enjoying her summer after her first year at school. I was the youngest member of our group of 23 pilgrims. I’m telling you this because God called me out for this journey intentionally at this moment in my life, but I realized along The Way that he had been preparing my heart for a while. My senior year of high school my Spanish teacher, one of the most devout beautiful Catholic women I know, had us watch the movie “The Way” and write a reflection paper on it. I had never heard of the Camino before, but I was immediately interested because my grandparents are from Galicia and the Camino Frances is through the North of Spain. Long after that assignment was turned in, the idea of that pilgrimage continued to resurface in my head. When I saw that Creatio was hosting a trip through my parish, I realized that this could be the time God was calling me.

When the interest meeting finally came, it seemed like an easy decision. I was met with all sorts of negative opinions on it. “You’re really going to go? You won’t know anyone. You’ve never hiked in your life, how will you do 25 kilometers a day? Will you be physically prepared? Is your Spanish even good enough to spend three weeks in Spain? Maybe you should wait and see if you can get your friends to do it with you another year.” There is probably more where that came from and while I recognize that most of it came from genuine places of concern, the decision was never a question of could I because I fully trusted that if I felt a desire to go, a desire more than a fleeting dream to one-day visit Australia to check it off the bucket list or an interest in taking a study abroad class, but a desire that grabbed at my heart I realized this could be it.

How could I say no? Before I left I made list of why I was going and this is what it says “to answer this calling; to sacrifice comfort and offer my walk for penitential reasons; to discern my vocation, to prepare for my summer youth ministry job; to offer my suffering for the intentions of others; to just be; to seek Him in creation; to listen.” These are just the surface levels of each reason, and as you can imagine some have greater depth, but post-Camino I still think all these reasons were true.

Walking With Intention 

College was full and busy and before I knew it, it was time to go. There is one detail about planning though that I believe is worthy of mentioning because it gave a new meaning to the whole trip. Before I went, I heard it was recommended to collect intentions. Not everyone can walk a pilgrimage and since so many people are praying for you, it’s worth considering offering your journey for the needs of other. So I created an anonymous google form. I sent it to people in my parish, teachers at my high school, and shared it on Facebook and Instagram. I posted in a few retreat groups that I had been on as well. People could leave intentions by name or anonymously and freely write what was on their hearts knowing I would offer these intentions. Before I even left for my trip I was already humbled by the faith of so many people who filled out the form. People trusted in the Lord. They possessed this wonder and fear of the Lord that was evident in what they said and the fact that they showed their most vulnerable sides through me to Him. So I printed them all out and as the trip came closer I continued to check and write them down in the airport or along the way.

There ended up being seventy-six intentions in addition to my own personal list. Even before the formal Camino began, my Way took me and my two travel companions to Paris and Lourdes and Pamplona. At all these places I offered these intentions. I would read my list in the dimly lit chapels and the giant Cathedrals. I laid them down in the grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. I knelt at the foot of the altar where Mary appeared to St. Katherine Laboure and told her to bring her intentions. I would read them before bed or when I had time, offering a Rosary for them while waiting for the train, or remember certain ones when I woke up at strange times as I adjusted to my new time zone. When the blisters were hurting, I would offer each blister for one. During Masses and silent reflections, I remembered. I became so familiar which each of them that by the conclusion I really did not need the paper. When I reached Santiago, when I found the adoration chapel in the cathedral I gazed on Jesus in the monstrance and I went through each one; intimately praying in intercession, dedicating silent prayer time to think about the intention and its writer whether named or anonymous.

Somos Peregrinos

One of the most striking parts of the Camino is the discussion that arises among pilgrims while walking. Besides the Lord being my physical strength received in the Eucharist each day or seeing His glory in the created world around me that often seemed too beautiful to be real, He spoke to me through companions. Each and every one in my group touched my heart in a specific way. It’s funny how a Catholic Charities Prolife Worker from Colorado who I never met and I could have so much in common and support each other through one of the most difficult days. It was so evident how the Lord was healing the heart of the other during our talks.  The day we reached the highest point “El Cruz de Ferro” and then had the steep journey down, Fr. Carlos listened to me speak, asked tons of questions, and was blatantly honest in his spiritual direction. The facades and the boundaries are gone and the hearts of the pilgrims are so open that the Spirit was speaking. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a “heart speaks to heart” moment, or moments, like I did on this pilgrimage.

“The Camino Is Life Compressed.”

You come into it not knowing what to expect and you’re totally dependent on those that have been walking it longer. Every day is different terrain. It rains. You get hurt. You finally get into a routine. You figure it out and then you reach the end, having walked so many miles, but still excited to find peace. St. Augustine said, “It is solved by walking” and I fully agree. While I highly recommend the Camino to everyone, there something to be said for intentionally walking and spending time with the Lord. Backpacks remind us of burdens, of what baggage we need to leave behind because to keep moving we can only take the most important things. Leaning on each other is imperative. Footsteps can be prayers. We are never alone.