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

This column appeared in the edition published  4th August 2010.

At least four players from Spain’s victorious World Cup squad, including the only scorer in the final, Andreas Iniesta, have said they will make a thanksgiving pilgrimage to the Spanish National Shrine of Santiago de Compostela. Their decision to make this sacred pilgrimage was made before the World Cup began in South Africa, provided that they would win the World Cup. Iniesta, a practicing catholic and a deeply committed Christian, had pledged to walk the way of St. James, with team mates Fernando Torres, Carlos Marchena, and Sergio Busquets. Iniesta, 26 scored the winning goal against the Nederlands in the 116th minute of the final at Soccer City in Johannesburg, and was named Man of the Match for securing his countries first World Cup Win.

The spirit of Santiago de Compostela continues to be a place that nourishes the spirits of pilgrims who journey this ancient pathway. These days I am very conscious of a local Pres/De La Salle teacher Eoin Garvey who is currently making his way by foot to the ancient city of Santiago. The Camino simply means ‘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 Gods presence. This pathway for Irish pilgrims began at St. James’ Gate in Dublin. The Camino covers over 800km. The Camino continues to offer 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.

Soccer heroes like Andreas Iniesta, continue to be important role models in all our search for something spiritual and positive.