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Pilgrimage to Compostela

Story ID:5323
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Biography
Location:Compostela none Spain
Person:Sr. Joyce Rupp
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If anyone enjoyed reading the Canterbury Tales, then I'm sure you will enjoy
this small account of Joyce Rupp, O.S.M. who made a modern day "Canterbury"
pilgrimage to Compostela.

That year she was fortunate enough to join a group of pilgrims on their way
to the Cathedral of Compostela in northwestern Spain. This is the burial site
of St. James the Apostle, and it has been one of the most favorite destinations
of people wanting to make a pilgrimage.

People then and now often made pilgrimages to fulfill vows made to God. They
would go on pilgrimage or have someone go in their place if God would grant
certain favors like healing an illness or helping in moments of great duress.
Some made pilgrimages out of love for God and His saints. Some had a need
to be spiritually refreshed or even cleansed because of a sinful life.

Traveling from various places in Europe -it takes days, weeks and even months
on the path (the Camino) to reach the cathedral. The Catholic Digest (Feb.08)
received permission to adapt Rupp's book "Walk in a Relaxed Manner" for its

Because she writes so well - for me it was like becoming a part of this pilgrim
experience. I was enrapt by her descriptions and story- telling abilities.
I also realized that despite the hardships of the pilgrimage, she and the other
pilgrims were very fortunate to be making this one to the cathedral at
Compostela. How many of us can travel to Spain and do so?

I laughed when I thought- can I even make my own small pilgrimage in Ohio
traveling the "C" cities route -From Cleveland to Canton to Columbus to
Cincinnati and back? Of course, it would be doable if I could find a foolhardy
group to join me and plan our itinerary which would have to include churches
and shrines along the way. Only one small problem. I doubt these 78 year-old
legs would fare well. However, I should be a little ashamed of admitting this
since you may have seen as I- two 85 year-old women dancing on two different
venues on the You Tube. They were phenomenal!

Well, so much for "my" pilgrimage plans. Now let's join Rupp on hers. On her
first night on the Camino (the Path) her friend Tom agreed that they would begin
their walk at the tiny village of Roncesvalles in Spain. There they had to find a
"refugio"- a place of simple housing for a small fee or donation. Refugios were
located all along the route. Arriving late in the evening at 9:15, they were
directed to a youth hostel and to a scene that would be repeated all along the
way to Compostela for 36 days.

Inside the hostel were several long rows of bunk beds where many pilgrims
had already settled in for the night. The Two Dutch women in charge of the
hostel were volunteers and were laughingly referred to as "the Mother
Superiors" of their first refugio.

After checking their "credentials" and insuring that they were bonified pilgrims,
the Dutch women warned them that loud talking or laughter was not allowed
in the refugio. Silence was strictly kept here and the door closed at 10 PM. Not
having eaten since lunchtime- they hurried to the only place available for food
and "enjoyed" the first of many bocadillos - a dry baguette with a thin slice of ham
and equally thin slice of cheese. It would assuage their hunger pangs - just
barely. But then pilgrimages were suppose to be penetential as well.

They returned to the refugio just in time for lights out - After climbing into her
sleeping bag, Rupp whispered to Tom - "My God, why am I here?"

At 5:45 a.m. all the lights came on and the pilgrims arose immediately. Long
lines headed to the basement toilet area. Though she was still tired, Rupp felt
a sense of exhilaration because this was "it." They were going to start out on
the Camino! After washing her face and brushing her teeth, she went back
upstairs to dress. No privacy at all, and as she finished packing her backpack-
one of the Dutch women announced - "Everybody out! Doors close at 8." She
barely made it out with 3 minutes to spare.

And what a surprise awaited the pilgrims - it was raining. Nevertheless, they
started in the rain about 8:30. Sister is a wonderful writer and she shared with
us her journal entry on this first day of pilgrimage:

"....It was 10:30 when we stopped at a corner market and bought fresh fruit,
cheese, and bread. We went on to walk 13 or 14 miles that first day. It was
more than we thought we would walk, but there were no refugios until then.
The whole day's walk was filled with a beauty that energized us and gave us a
desire to walk onward. Mountains close up and mountains in the distance, trees
of all kinds and the flowers....the most beautiful ones were in the last half day of
our walk, a little meadow of them and along the trail. The last three miles were
really tough to walk, though. Muddy, cow manure all over, gullies full of rocks.
A man ahead of us slipped and fell, not hurt. We are so grateful for our pilgrim
walking staffs. My calves ache and the bottoms of my feet are sore from walking
all day on stones, stones, stones--not the smooth asphalt we've been used to in

On the third day Rupp was complaining about the tough conditions when she
heard Jana from Holland say: "Pilgrims accept what is given to them." She
admitted that her message was one she needed to hear. It made her realize
then that she should be grateful for every piece of food she ate - for every bed
she slept in and for the kindness of every person who treated her kindly along
the way. She felt that this realization was the marking of a true pilgrim.

In this adaptation, there is no mention of the final arrival at the Cathedral of
Compostela, but Rupp's reflections about the import of her pilgrimage are
worth noting:

"Every significant journey changes us in some way. We are hardly ever aware
of this while we are in the midst of it. We may have hints of these changes,
but it is only later, in looking back, that we gasp in amazement at what was
being formed and shaped. Only then do we recognize how a new attitude, a
stronger dedication, and a fuller passion stretched us into the fullness of life.
Then we are able to identify the journey's ability to propel us into unexpected

This 2008 story from the Catholic Digest brings to mind my mother's yearly
pilgrimages from the 40's- to the 60's at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mount
St. Macrina in Uniontown, PA. Held each year around Labor Day -she and other
like-minded people converged here on pilgrimage coming from Ohio, New York,
New Jersey, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois and other parts of Pennslyvania -
wherever were Byzantine Catholic churches at that time. Today I wonder if the
members of the new churches in California and Arizona make the trek as well.

Where some people make plans for a vacation on a cruise ship or weeks at the
beach, my Slovak mother instead found this pilgrimage to both nourish her love
of Mary and Jesus, as well as an opportunity to renew friendships with other
pilgrims who also yearly made this pilgrimage. In the earlier years there were
thousands and thousands who came to the Mount and and one year even Msgr.
Fulton J. Sheen was also present for part of this 3-day event.

True- these pilgrims didn't walk to this place of pilgrimage. They came by buses
or cars. In the earlier years - the former race track of a rich coal baron who had
once owned this beautiful property was filled to capacity with buses and cars.
And many of the pilgrims- including my mother slept on cots in the four long
dormitories of the retreat houses - much like the Compostela pilgrims did in
the refugios. Sadly, I understand that the retreat houses are now beyond repair.
They also contained the 4 lavatories where the pilgrims often waited patiently
to use them.

The pilgrims also had to stand in line under the tent to buy their food. Other
tents provided cold drinks during the whole time of Pilgrimage. Most of the
liturgies and other prayerful events like a candlelight procession to the cemetery
required walking and a great deal of standing. But yes, they realized - these
discomforts were part of pilgrimage and no one complained.

So thank you Sr. Joyce Rupp for the small but riveting account of part of your
36-day "walk" to Compostela. Anyone interested in reading more of her account,
the title of her book "Walk in a Relaxed Manner" by Joyce Rupp, O.S.M. (Oris
Books, 2005).