Ancient pilgrimage route ‘a Catholic gift to the world’

Roxanne King

For 90 minutes last weekend, moviegoers in Denver and Boulder experienced the spiritual growth, physical pain and joy of pilgrims who made a 500-mile journey along a historical Catholic trail in Spain.

The premier of the award-winning documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” attracted large crowds in both cities, including 233 people at a sold-out show the evening of March 28 in Denver.

“This film and Camino is for people who want more from life than making more money or buying a bigger TV or a new car,” said director Lydia B. Smith, who attended the Denver premier.  “People who are seeking why they are on the planet, what is their relationship with God and the meaning of being more connected with other people.”

Smith first walked the trail in 2008 after a broken wedding engagement and wants to share the magic of the pilgrimage she calls “a Catholic gift to the world.”

Since the Middle Ages, the 1,200-year-old Catholic pilgrimage has attracted several hundreds of thousands of walkers yearly and ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela where the bones of Apostle St. James are said to be buried.

“Many people come as tourists,” said a Spanish priest in the film. “They end as pilgrims.”

Co-producer Annie O’Neil and Smith, who did question and answer sessions at the local premiers, raised the money to produce and distribute the film. Their film crew followed pilgrims on the six-week journey from late April to early June 2009.

Moviegoers at the Friday evening show laughed and cried as they watched the pilgrims encounter humorous and heartbreaking challenges: snoring strangers packed in a hostel; a brother who doesn’t believe in God; blisters the size of quarters; hiking boots covered with mud; smelly clothes; and strangers who offer immediate friendship.

“I didn’t expect to be so emotional watching the film,” said moviegoer Louise Lopez, who heard about the film from a Facebook post. “A women sitting next to me, who I don’t know, shared some Kleenex when we both started crying.”

O’Neil was one of six pilgrims, ages 3-73 from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France and the United States, featured in the documentary. They had a variety of reasons for doing the walk, from a traditional Catholic pilgrimage to a widower honoring his wife and a women suffering from depression.

O’Neil started the journey feeling inadequate because she physically couldn’t keep up with older pilgrims. Yet, she soon realized that feeling of competitiveness was taking away from her spiritual journey.

“A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul,” she said in the film.

Sam, a woman in her 30s, began the walk in a deep depression and ended it determined to focus on the positive things in her life.

“I haven’t washed my hair in the month but I feel great,” she said.

Misa, a student from Denmark, wanted to travel alone but she discovered the journey became more meaningful by walking with fellow traveler, William from Canada.

“Happiness is meant to be shared,” said William, who also considered himself a loner before the pilgrimage.

About 20 people at the film Friday evening have walked the Camino, including Gene and Rosann  McCullough of Denver. The couple completed the pilgrimage in three different segments beginning in 2002. As members of American Pilgrims on the Camino, the couple now returns to Spain as hosts to help other pilgrims at the hostels.

“We’ve made connections that will last a lifetime,” said Gene. “We see new people every day and they all have a different story.”

About 50 people raised their hands when Smith asked how many wanted to walk the trail after watching the film.

The filmmakers plan to have a DVD of the film available to the public by this fall. They also are raising $85,000 to get the film aired on PBS in the next few years and are seeking an international distributor.

More information about the Camino can be found at www.caminodocumentary.org and www.americanpilgrims.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”