Why I Walk...
I first studied the Spanish language when I was in high school and it was there that I first heard of the the Camino de Santiago. Like many high school Spanish teachers, mine assigned each of her students the Spanish version of his or her name and called us by those names during the assigned hour of class: Charles became Carlos, Elizabeth was called Isabel, and John became Juan for an hour each day. Of course I went be the name "Chip" when I was growing up. That name did not transform easily to a traditional Spanish name; but my baptismal name is James (I was named after my maternal grandfather). My teacher explained that 'Jaime' was the straight translation of my name to Spanish but that there was another option as well. she explained that Spanish-speaking people called Saint James "Santiago." She said I could choose. I turned it back to her and asked whihc she preferred. So "Me llamo Santiago" became part of my adolescent identity and I was 'Santiago' for an hour a day for more than 3 years.
I liked the name 'Santiago.' But knowing little of the development of language at that time, it made no sense to me that 'Santiago' = 'James.' My overly curious 14 year old brain had to understand. So I took the question to one of my favorite reading repositories of childhood: the World Book Encyclopedia. There in the pages of Volume S of the green and white fount of all knowledge, I encountered the patron saint of Spain and his milennium-old pilgrimage across the European Continent.
My next encounter with the Camino de Santiago came during my university years and a period of intense religious movement in my own life. When I was a junior in college in Charleston I attended a retreat that would change my life and would be very instrumental in the man that I have become. Cursillo was a Catholic renewal movement that landed on American shores from Spain through Hispanic America in the middle of the last Century. Cursillo was also adopted by many protestant groups. I encountered it during the years I was worshipping in the Episcopal Church. Cursillo, with its emphasis on sacramental life and theology provided a very Catholic spriritual underpinning for an intellectual conversion that had been going on in me for a couple of years. To make a long and winding road a little shorter, Cursillo would be instrumental in my eventual choice for Catholicism as a young adult. What has this to do with Santiago? The good historian, nothing that is important to me escapes scrutiny of its origins. As I delved into the history of the Cursillo movement in Spain, once again Santiago poked his head up and winked at me.
The Cursillo Movement originated on the Spanish Island of Mallorca as a training program for leaders of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. These pilgrimages resurged in popluraity during the conservative Catholic years following the Spanish Civil War and Franco used Santiago in his program of propaganda. But on Mallorca there was a desire to recove a sense of retreat for the Pilgrimage and desire to encourage conversion for pilgrims. Out of this grew the 'Cursillos en Cristiandad' (Short Courses in Christianity) which prepared leaders of pilgrimage groups to lead their flock to the Shrine of Santiago to encounter not a symbol of Spanish Nationalism, but an Apostle of the Lamb. Subsequently, the Camino and Cursillo share a vocabulary (Ultreya!). There was one big difference between my research into a name at 14 and this religiously-motivated research into Cursillo in my young adulthood: this time I read A LOT about the pilgrimage, including lots of first hand accounts of those who had walked. I was intrigued, and from that time until this, I have known that some day I would walk the Way of Santiago
It is 39 years after my introduction to Santiago and 32 years since my Cursillo. A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges in the meantime. When I organized my Sabbatical Year, the primary consideration was getting to Spain so I could walk the Way of Saint James and this experience is to be the crowning of a year of amazing experiences. One has to be careful about experiences that have built up decades of expectation. Can the reality be as wonderful as the dream? I'm not worried and I am about to find out (and I can barely contain my excitement). Me llamo Santiago y por fin voy a caminar el Camino de mi Tocayo.
The Pilgrim Priest
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a priest of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Western USA. From April 20 - June 1, 2015 he walked from Lourdes, France to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. This page contains observations, images and reflections from the Way of St. James.
Fr. Bartholomew Hutcherson, OP, "The Pilgrim Preacher" is an Itinerant Preacher and member of the Western Dominican Province Preaching Team. He is available for retreats, conferences, and Parish Missions. He offers pilgrimages periodically and shares images and reflections on this website as "virtual pilgrimages."