I happened across Pilgrimage, The Road to Santiago by the BBC on the local PBS channel one evening. I was fascinated to find there was a mix of Christians and non-believers taking that journey.
From what I understand, El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a difficult trek over mountainous terrain in Spain. It’s not a journey one takes lightly, although if someone is interested in hiking, that may be a motive. While I didn’t catch the whole program, I was intrigued to watch from the point I found it. When I realized there were non-believers on the journey, I must admit that I was a bit horrified. I think my initial reaction was fear that the Christians would be mocked, looked down upon, or otherwise shown disdain for their beliefs. If I were on that trip, I know I would initially be rather uncomfortable about their lack of faith. After all, for a pilgrimage of that physical magnitude, having a common bond, like faith, is a huge aid when the going gets tough. However, all the participants seemed to show respect for each other and as opportunities arose, they did talk about their beliefs.
There was one scene where two of the non-Christians spoke with a friar from the town they were lodging for the night. One of the men said that he believed in himself and his abilities and didn’t need to believe in God. I got the sense he was not raised in any religion at all. He also asked the friar, if he hadn’t been “brainwashed” in his youth, would he think he would still be a friar. It was an interesting question, but I rather bristled at the word brainwashed. I find that faith is a journey, and there are numerous times along the way that we will need to stop and think about what we believe and make sure we believe it. Faith is not a once and done thing, it is like a flower that needs to grow, that needs feeding, care, and attention. We need to put the effort into prayer, the sacraments, and weekly (or more) attendance at Mass. Faith is not something that is done to us, but something we choose to pursue.
During the course of the chat the friar indicated it wasn’t rare to find some travelers on El Camino that are not believers. He talks to them regardless, saying it’s okay and the important thing is that they are on this journey. He summed it up, saying that it didn’t matter if they believed in God, because God believes in them; and that’s what really counts. I cheered when he said that!
While there are pilgrimages I would like to take, I don’t think I could handle El Camino, at least at this point in my life. However, this episode did give me food for thought, especially the variety of beliefs within the group. It made me wonder, would I have the courage to share my faith with them, even if I was mocked or belittled? Would I label them as non-believers and mentally put them in a separate category than those who share my faith? Or would I see them, as fellow pilgrims and children of God, whose path in their faith journey has happened to cross mine?