Pilgrimage Yields Spiritual Nourishment
COLORADO SPRINGS. A recent pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain is being recognized for helping bring parishioners closer to family, friends and God.
Holy Cross Father Randy Rentner, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Manitou Springs and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, led 19 parishioners along the Way of St. James in Spain — known as the Camino de Santiago — in July. The pilgrimage culminated at the Cathedral of Santiago and the tomb of St. James the Apostle, who according to tradition preached in present-day Spain and was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred for the faith.
Along the way, couples deepened their friendships by exploring a new environment, changing their regular routines and spending time together talking while walking.
“We met in Spain on July 10 and started walking on July 11,” Father Rentner said. “We arrived in Santiago on July 15, went to Muxia and Finistera on the 16th — our last group activity.” “We have had two trips, both pilgrimages to Santiago, although we took two different routes each time. In 2022, we walked the Portuguese route, starting on the border of Spain and Portugal. This past summer, we walked along the French route, starting in the Spanish town of Sarria in Galicia. Both pilgrimages were only a week long each.”
According to Father Rentner, the history of the Camino stretches back at least 1,000 years; it is believed that St. Francis of Assisi made the pilgrimage. But after a period of relative obscurity, it is currently enjoying a resurgence.
“The Camino has grown in popularity over the last decade or so, in part because of the movie, ‘The Way,’ starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. In in mid-80s, less than 2000 people a year walked the Camino. Nowadays, over 300,000 pilgrims arrive at the cathedral each year,” Father Rentner said.
People have various reasons for going on a pilgrimage, Father Rentner said. Some women participated without their families so they could experience their first alone time in years. This allowed them to focus on themselves instead of caring for everyone in their families.
“Last year, we had several young women in their 20s join us. They came as friends, but went home with many new friends, all having shared together a common experience of faith.”
Father Rentner said he enjoys leading the Camino pilgrimages because busses don’t usher the groups to and from holy places and tourist spots. Instead, the group each day meets before dawn to begin with a prayer, wish each other, “Buen Camino” and set off on their own personal pilgrimages.
“We may intersect many times during the day, which is wonderful. I always enjoy joining people for a coffee and croissant along the way. But the faster walkers we may not see again until Mass and dinner. We cross paths with our fellow pilgrims and we meet pilgrims from other countries along the way, spending time with them on the walk and at rest stops,” Father Rentner said.
He added that he encourages people to walk by themselves during some part of the pilgrimage to listen to what God may be trying to tell them in the solitude of being on their own.
“Seeing the land of Jesus’ birth is wonderful; visiting Rome is breathtaking. But simply walking each day, intentionally, is a wonderful spiritual exercise that can’t be achieved on a tour bus,” Father Rentner said.
Each trip has led to the development of separate communities of pilgrims who have become friends by sharing a bond of having struggled, laughed and prayed together in Spain.
“We always have a reunion potluck luncheon after each trip, and give a presentation to the parish after Mass a couple months after the pilgrimage, to allow us to share our own reflections on the Camino. This stirs up interest for the next year’s trip,” Father Rentner said.
Some people have jokingly called the week-long walk a “Camino-Lite,” as those who have the time and resources can spend weeks or months walking, depending on where in Europe they decide to begin their journey.
“But even within five days, one can struggle with adjusting to the 12-18 mile-walks, with all of the accompanying blisters, sore knee joints and aching legs. Each year we have had folks from their early 20s to their early 80s along. As I say, we each walk our own separate Caminos,” Father Rentner said.
For Father Rentner, arriving in the city of Santiago de Compostela, with everyone exhausted from walking, experiencing the cathedral and attending Mass together was the highlight of the trip.
“That is definitely the highlight each year. Especially as a priest, being able to concelebrate the Mass is a powerful moment to remember,” he said.
Father Rentner said he is surprised at how many people in the parish have expressed an interest in and have followed along the Camino. He posted daily photos on the parish website and sent videos interviewing pilgrims.
“When I arrived home, I was greeted for a month with ‘Welcome Back from the Camino. We enjoyed following along with you online.’ Last year we had a large crowd come listen to a presentation we all made of our experiences on the trip,” he said.
Sacred Heart parishioner Alan Bridges said he felt privileged to experience Spain with fellow parishioners. “As I reintegrate into daily life in Colorado Springs, I am encouraged to remember that we never walk alone, and to keep listening for God along the way,” Bridges said.
Bridges’ wife, Maureen, said she believes God directed her and her husband to the event. “We treasured this time together and with others. We attended a Spanish Mass, with pilgrims from many countries,” Maureen said.
Parishioner Gerre Gerdes said Colorado pales in comparison to Spain’s scenic beauty. “Each church on our route was beautiful with its own distinctive setting, images and a special aura…Our group of pilgrims is the best ever. We will remain close friends in a very special way,” Gerdes said.
Another parishioner, Catherine Krause, said she experienced the gift of creation and relationships, and ability to simply be overwhelmed by gratitude.
“My fellow pilgrims, may we all continue to walk the path our Lord has called us to, carrying only that which he asks of us, experiencing the beauty of those and that which surrounds us, grateful for the gift of this life,” Krause said.
Father Rentner said he and a seminary classmate, Father Russ McDougall, explored Madrid and a few surrounding cities this past year. He would like to trek the English Camino, starting in the town of Ferrol, if enough people express interest.
“I’d like to fly through London and revisit the city where I spent my junior year in college,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean everyone on our Camino will visit London, since Ferrol is in Spain. This past year, folks took advantage of being in Europe to visit many different cities either before or after our pilgrimage together.”
The only criteria for participating in the pilgrimage is having a desire to walk — which is usually not an obstacle because Coloradoans are avid hikers — and that people have a desire to focus on God during their walk, Father Rentner said.
“As far as I’m concerned, each person experiences his or her own Camino in his or her own way. I have at least one, maybe two young couples who are thinking about walking with us carrying their infants on their backs. That would be wonderful. I’ve walked alongside folks with strollers and people on crutches, as well,” he said. “I like to go in July during the summer when families are freer. Despite people’s fears, the weather has been great for us each time.”
For information about upcoming pilgrimages, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.