While many of the peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago are not Catholic, the Camino is recognized as a Catholic pilgrimage and provides many opportunities to deepen your faith. As practicing Catholics, we wanted to make the most of our pilgrimage, and did some research prior to walking the Camino on how to more deeply live out and grow in our faith.
What are some practices to consider when walking the Camino as a Cathollic? As we walked the Camino, we found three main ways to practice our Catholic faith: through the sacraments, through prayers in our walks, and through additional practices at the start or end of the day. We believe Catholics who are open to deepening their faith while walking the Camino will experience an intensification and broadening of their beliefs.
Below, we provide some practices any Catholic pilgrim can consider while preparing for the Camino and while walking the Camino.
Attend Daily Mass
Many towns offer daily Pilgrim Masses. We have a post with more information on what a Pilgrim’s Mass is.
For some towns, a quick internet search can provide information about Mass times. However, the Mass times posted online might not necessarily be accurate. So, whenever we arrived at a town, we would inquire what time they celebrated Mass. Pilgrim Masses generally conclude with a blessing for all pilgrims, often in various languages.
In some of the smaller villages, there are no daily Masses offered. Be on the lookout for peregrino priests who are walking the way to St. James - they might celebrate a Mass that they open up to fellow pilgrims (this happened to us!). Be also on the lookout for impromptu Masses held outside in the evenings. We saw one held in an empty lot, led by Italian monks who were walking the Camino.
Attend Sunday Mass
As Catholics, we have an obligation to attend Sunday Mass (or Saturday Vigil). We suggest planning your walk so that you end up in a bigger town on Saturday/Sunday, so that you are sure you will have the opportunity to attend Sunday Mass (or Saturday Vigil).
We had heard from a friend who had walked the Camino before we did, that she did end up on a Saturday/Sunday in certain towns that did not have churches, and this prevented our friend from being able to attend Sunday Mass.
We did not want this to happen to us, so we planned our route so that we were in a bigger town on Saturday/Sunday, where it was guaranteed that we would be able to attend Sunday Mass.
As you plan your route, consider also planning out and noting which towns have churches and provide opportunities to attend Mass, especially Sunday Mass. To do this, do an internet search with the name of the town and the word “Iglesia” for Church. Many churches have websites that will provide you with important information such as Mass times. You can also consider referring to the Camino guidebooks, though depending on when the particular guidebook was published, the information might no longer be accurate.
As mentioned above for daily Masses, once you arrive at the town, make sure you double check with the locals to confirm that you have the right Mass times. We found that many churches post their Mass schedules on the door of the church. So, if you are uncomfortable checking with the locals, just walk over to the church and check for yourself. Churches were usually right on or very close to the Camino route, so finding and walking to the Church should not be a problem.
Confession was very frequently offered, either before or during Mass. Confessions during Mass was not something we were used to, but basically, while one priest is celebrating Mass, another is at a confessional and you approach him while everyone else is attending Mass.
We were not used to the type of confessionals we encountered. We were used to walking into a confessional that resembles a small room, where you enter through a door and close the door behind you. Instead, we encountered confessionals that were more like booths, right in the sanctuary. With these booths, both priest and penitent are visible to everyone else. But don’t worry! Though others can see you, your conversation is only audible to you and the priest.
If you do not speak Spanish, don’t let that prevent you from attending Confession. Priests who speak different languages will put up a sign on the confessional to indicate which languages they speak. Once, we saw a priest who was offering to hear confessions in four languages!
Be on the lookout for peregrino priests as well. We encountered a peregrino priest who offered to hear confessions.
If you haven’t been to Confession for a while, consider using the Way of St. James as an opportunity to reinstitute this sacrament into your life.
Pray the Rosary
Most of your day will be spent walking, so why not make use of that time to pray? Bring a rosary with you and pray the Rosary as you walk.
A song we heard at Mass along the Camino had a refrain of “Ven con nosotros a caminar, Santa Maria, ven”, which translates to “Come walk with us, Holy Mary, come”. Praying the Rosary is a beautiful way to have Our Lady walk with you on your pilgrimage.
If you have not prayed the Rosary before, there are many guides on how to pray the Rosary. A quick internet search will provide you with the information you need. If five decades of the Rosary seem like too long as you start out, then just say one and then increment until you get to the five decades.
You can consider offering the Rosary for yourself or for a loved one. Or, you can offer each decade for a different intention or individual.
The Rosary is a traditional prayer beloved by many saints. Whether you already pray the Rosary, or will try it out on the Camino, praying the Rosary as you walk will only add meaning and devotion to your pilgrimage to St. James.
Pray the Jesus Prayer
The Jesus prayer is short and simple: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Though short and simple, it is a very meaningful prayer. With it, you acknowledge and contemplate on the reality of Jesus as the Son of God, and on yourself as a sinner.
The Jesus prayer is meant to be repeated over and over, such that it becomes a part of you. For example, it has been suggested that the prayer can be recited in unison with your breathing, where the first part of the prayer (“Lord Jesus, Son of God”) would be prayed as you inhale, and the second part of the prayer (“Have mercy on me, a sinner”) would be prayed as you exhale. In this way, the prayer becomes a part of you.
The Jesus prayer is a great prayer while walking the Camino. You can repeat it over and over again, to the rhythm of your steps.
Offer Each Day
Each day will have its ups and downs, its struggles and discomforts. Why not offer these to the Lord? You can offer up each day and its struggles for the conversion or intentions of someone. Then, that day, be sure to think about that person throughout the day.
It has been suggested that as you walk and your backpack starts to feel heavier by the minute, remember Jesus carrying His cross. He did it for you. Now, you have the opportunity to unite yourself to Him, and like Him, carry your cross on behalf of someone else.
Consider not only offering the day and its struggles for the people you love, but also for those who annoy you or those you don’t like. In this way, you imitate Jesus, who prayed for His enemies, but you will also find that in His mercy, God will soften your heart towards those individuals. You will begin to see them as, like you, God’s beloved children.
Reflect as You Walk
When not praying the Rosary or the Jesus prayer, use that time to reflect.
Think of the reasons why you embarked on this pilgrimage. Think of what is and what is not going well in your life, and ask for wisdom regarding whether anything needs to change, and if so, what.
Think of true pilgrims, who in their pilgrimage likely carried less things than we do, and who did not necessarily know where they were going to spend the night. How much they had to rely on God! Think of your life as a pilgrimage - how can you more fully rely on God? What lessons from walking the Camino can apply to “walking the pilgrimage” of your life, towards heaven?
We found that this reflection time offered many profound insights from the Camino, lessons that have transformed our way of thinking since returning. You will find parallels between walking the Way of St. James and your life, and it is only by taking the time to reflect that you will identify these parallels and apply the lessons.
Praise God the Creator for His creation. You will encounter many beautiful views, beautiful flowers, trees, and streams. Many of these beautiful views will serve as a starting point to reflect on God’s creation and His providence.
Praise God for everything He has brought to your life. No matter how bleak things might seem, there is always something to be thankful for, including the ability to go on this pilgrimage!
Pray a Novena
Novenas are prayers that are usually prayed for a period of nine days. Whatever your particular intention is, you will very likely find a novena for it. The Camino is a great place to pray one or multiple novenas. You might choose to pray the novena first thing in the morning or in the evenings, after the walking is done.
With so many novenas, how can you decide which one(s) to pray? As mentioned above, you can look up a novena that is specific to your particular intention. If you have a patron saint, you can find out if there is a novena associated with that saint. Of course, you can pray a novena to St. James! We found a St. James Novena (intended for those walking the Camino, translated from Spanish) that offered much spiritual benefit during our walk.
This website might also prove helpful to you: https://www.praymorenovenas.com/
Read the Bible or a Spiritual Book
Reading the Scriptures or a spiritual book in the mornings or evenings can help to further focus your thoughts on God, and can provide additional thoughts to reflect on as you walk.
Make use of this time in which distractions have been minimized to read Scriptures. You can consider reading more about St. James, his relationship with Jesus, and his role in the early Church. You can read all four Gospels back to back and meditate on the life of Jesus.
In terms of spiritual books, find some of the classics of Catholicism and learn more about the faith. An internet search will provide you with Catholic reading lists consisting of well known and loved books on Catholicism, the saints, and living a holy life. These lists might be good starting points:
An e-reader will be a great companion on your Camino, since you can store a Bible and many other books for you to choose from, without the added weight of bringing several books.
Enjoy the Silence
Clarity comes from silence. Insights come in the silence. God speaks in the silence. Give Him the opportunity to speak to you. If you haven’t taken time to be silent for a long time, this may be jarring at first. Be patient in the silence and work through what you are feeling.
Keep a Journal
You will think of new goals and directions for your life, and you will learn lessons, both spiritual and practical, as you walk. Record these regularly, at the start or end of the day, so that you can follow up on them later on.
For the Camino, we traded our usual journals for some very lightweight notebooks, so as to remove the extra weight. After your pilgrimage, you will find that the notes you recorded in your journal will serve as great reminders of what you learned.
You will meet people who are in need while walking your pilgrimage. Giving of your resources (whether it is money, time, or food) will open yourself up to the grace of God. It might be helpful to have some money set aside for almsgiving. Although we did not encounter people in need on the walk itself or in the small towns, we did encounter many people asking for alms in Santiago de Compostela.
During your walk, you will have opportunities to give when you visit churches. Each donation you make will help ensure the ministry of each church continues.
While we were both practicing Catholics when we decided to walk the Camino, walking the Camino opened our eyes to the beauty of the Catholic faith, and definitely strengthened our faith. As you walk the Camino, think about the hundreds of years and the many pilgrims walking the same road you are walking - the Catholic faith has been leading so many to God, for so many years! Think about the different backgrounds of your fellow pilgrims, and even with different languages we share the same faith and participate in the same Mass. How beautiful that the Catholic faith is one, shared by all Catholics! While on the Camino, ponder the beauty of Catholicism, and allow yourself to more fully embrace it.