In his weekly blog, Fr Paddy shares his recent experience on the famous Camino pilgrimage with 30 Leaving Cert students.

The same album is posted on our Facebook youth page (you are welcome to become a fan)

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist Papers.

This column appeared on 15 July 2009

I have just spent the past week with thirty Leaving Cert students from the Presentation De La Salle Secondary School, Bagenalstown, walking the Camino (The Way). This is an ancient pilgrimage in honor of St. James, whose remains, are buried in the Cathedral in Santiago, Northern Spain. This pilgrimage itself has a very rich tradition; thousands of pilgrims from all over the world walk the Camino in search of meaning and God. The walk brings the body to a natural rhythm, where the inner self becomes truly alive and present to the pathway that leads to God’s presence. This pathway for Irish pilgrims began at St. James Gate in Dublin. The Camino covers over 800km, our group walked the final 110 km from Syria into Santiago Compostella.

This was a truly wonderful experience where the enthusiasm, freshness, good humor and rich faith of youth brought a great spring to our steps on our way. This was at times a testing experience for young people walking over 25km a day often in difficult conditions. It has been for many of these young people a pathway of discovery, where they have witnessed their own resilience and stamina and their dependence on others including God for strength and support. The Camino offers a gentle and very inclusive spirituality, where the pilgrim discovers God in a very real and personal way, often through the encounters with fellow travelers on the road.

For the first few Centuries the early Christians were called followers of the way. The way was a both a direction where they were led, and an attitude that facilitated others to share in its rich opportunities. Followers of the way were identifiable by the way they lived their lives, their gentleness, compassion, generosity, courage and resilience. All of us are on the Way, a journey through life that is also a pilgrimage, a journey where we search for meaning and purpose in life. For some the way has a sense of direction where life has fulfillment and contentment for others the pathway is more difficult and sense of direction more challenging to navigate.

Many of us at this time find the way a tough climb, a pathway that has become overwhelmed by unemployment and uncertainty. Every week the mountain of unemployment seems to be getting higher and more difficult for so many to cope with. Often the difficulties on our pilgrim pathway visit us involuntary, sickness, bereavement, addiction, anxiety and loss. Perhaps it was for this reason that our God had to walk these human experiences on his pathway through life in order to fully embrace the human condition. In the Gospel Jesus describes himself as The Way. He is our strength when we are weak and tired. He is that word of encouragement and gentle smile that assures us we are not alone. His way points us in a direction that opens new possibilities and opportunities.

The Camino walk was an experience of soul searching and finding new strength and hope for all of us. May the Lord touch our lives wherever we walk this day.