Ancient pilgrimage route ‘a Catholic gift to the world’

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: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash