By Bishop James Conley
On a hilltop in the mountains of Spain, an iron cross has stood for at least one thousand years, visible from villages, roads, farms, and mountain paths for miles away. Below it is a pile of rocks—some pebbles, and some much larger—which have been carried from around the world and quietly, and prayerfully, placed at the foot of the cross.
The cross is the Cruz de Ferro, a holy site along the ancient Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a route along which pilgrims have walked, seeking the Lord, for more than a millennium. The rocks at the Cruz de Ferro are placed at the foot of the cross to represent giving our sins, our trials and our crosses to the Lord, and trusting in him to carry our burdens. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Learning that the yoke of following the Lord is easy, and the burden light—that his Providence ensures that, by grace, we can do more than we would have—is what the Camino de Santiago has taught pilgrims for generations. The journey is long and arduous—but with the Lord, who makes all things possible, it is an occasion of joy, of freedom, and of transformation in holiness. Walking, especially in the company of fellow pilgrims, in order to follow the Lord, reminds us that our entire lives are a pilgrimage, undertaken in the company of the Church, and made possible, joyful, and holy by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have had the occasion to spend a great deal of time as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, in the company of brother priests, of friends, and especially, of young people. I have seen the ancient pilgrimage become a source of new life. I have seen the ancient Way of St. James form hearts, minds, and wills for great things in service to the Lord. I have seen God’s mercy poured out along pilgrim trails, and his grace abundantly manifest in conversations along the way, or in silent moments of prayer, in unexpected kindnesses, and in the celebration of the Eucharist along the journey.
The Camino de Santiago has been a powerful way of grace in my own life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
This week, “Footprints,” a documentary about the journey of young men along the Camino de Santiago will open at Edgewood Cinema in Lincoln. I have seen this film, and I know it tells the story of God’s Providence, and of young people learning to trust in the Lord, and to follow him with serenity and with joy.
I encourage you and your families to see “Footprints” while it is playing in Lincoln. Some of you may be inspired to walk the Camino, as a group of seminarians and young people from our diocese will do this summer. Others may never have the opportunity to walk the Camino. But each of us walks, daily, as a pilgrim towards the heavenly city of Jerusalem—toward eternal life with God. Along the way, I hope that each of us will see the Providence of God, and the power of silence, of friendship, of worship, and of the Lord, especially, our companion along the way, who strengthens us, and makes the yoke easy, and the burden light.