For first-time pilgrims, it’s easy to get consumed with the planning, training, packing, weighing, and repacking for the Camino. I hear many newbie pilgrims asking the same burning questions I had just five years ago about backpacks, blisters, and starting points. As I became comfortable with my gear and physical abilities, I became increasingly drawn to more spiritual preparations. Now, I love to integrate blessings before, during, and after the Camino.
Pre-Camino Shell Blessing
In Northern California, our chapter’s shell-blessing ceremony is nondenominational and usually takes place in early spring. Ritual offerings of a Camino shell to the departing pilgrims and the reading of the traditional pilgrim blessing, these ceremonies mark a rite of passage in a pilgrim’s journey.
If you happen to be at a regular church service anywhere in Europe, don’t be shy about asking for a Camino blessing, as priests are usually happy to oblige. Before starting my second Camino, I was at a regular Mass at Iglesia San Francisco in Ferrol. Because I asked for a blessing, I was invited to stay for a beautiful vespers service honoring the Virgin Mary as “the Queen of May.”
During my third Camino, I attended a pilgrim Mass almost every night as I was with a group of Catholics from Malta who had planned for this. It was fun to see a different Camino family forming at these Masses, some of whom I never saw on the trail.
Crosses, or cruceiros, and stone waymarkers can be prompts for us to pause for a moment of reflection. I stopped at the many along my Caminos to take breaks, give thanks, pray, or perhaps read a prayer card left by someone who walked before me.
After each Camino, I love to attend a Mass in English at the cathedral. There have been priests from Ireland, Venezuela, and the Philippines, and each service took place at smaller chapels within the giant cathedral. After my fourth Camino, the cathedral was closed so I went to a lovely service at the chapel in the Pilgrim Office. I also attended one of the Camino reflections that are offered in different languages. We each had a chance to share our story—some were emotional (bring Kleenex!), and some were funny.
I respect that there are pilgrims at various points on the spirituality spectrum, from secular to devout. But all pilgrims are welcome in the churches, regardless of religious background. From large gatherings with kindred spirits, to quiet moments to pray in solitude—don’t miss the many wonderful opportunities for Camino blessings.
Note: This is the full version of the article published in the March 2020 newsletter for American Pilgrims on the Camino (See page 10: “La Concha” newsletter).
The full version of La Concha Newsletter can be downloaded by members of American Pilgrims on the Camino.