These days, you can encounter just about anyone walking the Camino de Santiago. Although the practice originated as a Christian pilgrimage in the ninth century, the pool of participants has expanded well beyond practicing Catholics in recent decades….
This makes one group that just completed El Camino somewhat remarkable, at least in contemporary times: three U.S. bishops, with no entourage and no agenda, other than prayerfully journeying together on the ancient Way of St. James.
The bishops in question — Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico — walked about 200 miles over the course of two and a half weeks, reaching their destination on Sept. 1. As Bishop Wall told the Register via a video interview with all three bishops, they were somewhat of an “unusual group.”
But although some travelers were surprised to encounter a trio of bishops on the road, the three are no strangers to El Camino, which perhaps could be called “Los Caminos,” given that it actually refers to a network of different walking routes crisscrossing Spain, Portugal and France, all leading to Santiago de Compostela — and the tomb of the apostle St. James the Greater.
For Archbishop Coakley and Bishop Wall, this was the fifth portion of the pilgrimage they’ve completed together. By walking the middle portion of the Camino Frances, or “The French Way,” they’ve now finished all 500 miles of the popular route.
Bishop Conley joined them in 2012 for the last stretch of the Camino Frances and has also completed another leg on his own, while Archbishop Coakley and Bishop Wall have also done the Camino Portuguese and the Camino Primitivo, the original route that starts near the northern coast of Spain.
Adding up the mileage from their five journeys, Archbishop Coakley and Bishop Wall have now walked 840 Camino miles together….
Archbishop Coakley notes that, in his own archdiocese, there are plans to turn the soon-to-be dedicated Shrine of Blessed Stanley Rather into a place of pilgrimage. Father Rother was a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who was killed in 1981 in Guatemala, making him the first officially confirmed U.S.-born martyr.
For his part, Bishop Conley pointed to the Three Hearts Pilgrimage, a two-day, 35-mile trek to Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in eastern Oklahoma. Bishop Conley said this pilgrimage, which starts this year on Oct. 20, is especially popular for fathers to make with their sons.
Finally, Bishop Wall pointed to the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico, a place that has been described as “the Lourdes of America” due to the “holy dirt” believed to have healing powers found at the shrine.
Chimayó attracts 300,000 pilgrims annually, most visiting during Holy Week, and some walking the 90 miles from Albuquerque.
The above comes from a Sept. 12 story in the National Catholic Register.