First Australian Ignatian Camino for Young Adults!
Ten years ago, Newman College started offering an opportunity for our students to walk the famous ‘Camino de Santiago’—a pilgrimage route to Santiago (St James) of Compostela in Spain, as part of the spiritual initiatives of the College. Throughout these years, it has become one of the highlights for many of the students who have taken up the challenge to ‘walk the Camino’ (‘Camino’ is the Spanish word for ‘way’ or ‘journey’).
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 restrictions, we were not able to make the pilgrimage to Spain last year. As it seemed that travel restrictions would still be in place throughout this year, we decided to look for other pilgrimage options, and that is how the first ‘Australian Ignatian Camino’ was born! Nineteen of us drove to South Australia on Sunday 27 June and then walked 125km over six days (an average of 21km/day) from Gawler to Sevenhill, in the Clare Valley.
The group included seventeen young people, mainly students from Newman College, but also three others (including a young pilgrim who joined us from Auckland!) and two Jesuits, Matthew Pinson (a Jesuit student) and Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman, both of whom reside at Newman. We stayed in caravan parks along the way, sleeping in small cabins and tents, and even one night on the floor of a church! We bought groceries at the end of the day each day and then cooked our meals together.
The pilgrimage route—along the Barossa and Clare valleys—followed the steps of the first Jesuits to arrive in Australia back in 1848, going from Gawler through to Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Kapunda, Riverton, Auburn and finally to Sevenhill, where the Jesuits currently run a parish, a retreat centre and a winery!
Walking on the footsteps of these first Jesuits (originally from Austria), was especially significant for us at this time, because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the conversion experience of St Ignatius of Loyola, which eventually led him, with a small group of companions, to found the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Thus, the pilgrimage helped us mark this Ignatian Year (May 2021-July 2022), which is being commemorated in many different ways around the world.
Following the theme of the Ignatian Year, “To see all things new in Christ”, we were able to walk together as a faith community, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, reflect on daily themes and engage in rich liturgies and sharing at the end of each day. We were also recipients of the wonderful hospitality of individuals and groups of the various communities who welcomed us along the way. Judging from the young adults’ comments, this Camino was a rewarding and fulfilling experience for all who participated in it. Here are a couple of testimonials from some of the young adult participants:
The Camino has easily been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Out in the beautiful green of South Australia, you leave behind your troubles and return to the natural world –– God’s world. Out there, you are given time to reflect and appreciate (something that we often lack in the fast-paced city). The connections you make on the journey –– not just with your walking partners but with the locals, nature, and yourself –– can be profound and subtle; passionate and life-changing. It is only when you return that you realise how much you’ve been shaped by the kind hearts of the people and the greatness of the terrain. I am extraordinarily grateful for this experience and would not have traded it for anything in the world. For those interested in future Caminos, I would say ‘you simply couldn’t ask for a more wonderful adventure’. - Harison
The Camino in South Australia was a really enjoyable and memorable experience, which I would recommend to anyone wishing to spend more time in nature, learning how to cook for a LARGE group (and not just yourself), plus taking the time to be left to your own thoughts. Apart from focusing on just walking from one point to the next, getting to know other people more has been a real highlight of the trip. Although I knew/recognised most people before the Camino, I’ve never had the chance to take the time to understand or get to know them better. More importantly, the Camino has gotten me to understand myself better as well — despite creating more questions that need to be answered. And I think what I’ve gained the most from the Camino, was cleaning up some confusion about what my future would look like, and learning to accept the fact that others’ opinions shouldn’t influence what I think is best for myself. If an opportunity arises in the future, anyone sitting on the fence about whether to go on the Camino or not should just do it. Words alone are not enough to describe the experience! - Daniela
The Camino itself was startling in its intensity, both physically and spiritually. Walking 20-30km a day through a variety of terrains and weather conditions is not normal, for most of us. However, while it was physically strenuous, I also found myself becoming more sensitive to things that I might’ve otherwise dismissed fairly quickly in the busyness of everyday life. The kindness of strangers, for example, was deeply moving to witness. Many of the local parishes we came across lavished hospitality upon us, welcoming us with warmth and generosity. Several locals were similarly friendly, showing true interest in who we were. When you are more tired and run-down than usual, you find yourself particularly sensitive to such kindness, noticing how your own heart is touched and revived by it. In these fleeting, yet intense encounters with others, I was given an opportunity to contemplate what has been termed the ‘magis’ – the better, deeper or truer way. - Gabby