Who Walks the Camino?

Wick and Helen Van Wagenen walking through Tui, Spain in 2016. (Camino Portugues route)

Wick and Helen Van Wagenen walking through Tui, Spain in 2016. (Camino Portugues route)

God has imparted a sacredness that is palpable to the Camino through hundreds of years and millions of praying pilgrims who have walked as seekers or devoted followers of Jesus. We have met former church-goers with religious wounds, a curious muslim from Dubai, a witch from New Zealand, and Buddhists from Germany on our walks. We haven’t experienced anything else like these opportunities to share life with such spiritually diverse people for a single meal, or several days of walking. We have seen and experienced miracles, and are comforted knowing that any love or grace we can extend to people can become like the loaves and fishes that multiplied and fed thousands. Receive what God has for you. Love the ones with whom you walk. 

Eleven years ago when Wick and I first heard about walking the Camino it was at a potluck dinner with friends from our local church community in Florida, which happens to be Anglican. We were taking turns telling about our favorite places to visit, and someone mentioned Santiago de Compostela and the “500 mile pilgrimage.” Immediately I knew in my spirit Wick and I were supposed to walk the Camino with our son Hunter the following fall. It wasn’t until I began researching it and talking to international friends that more than one person raised an eyebrow and said something like, “You’re not Catholic, why would you do that?”

Since then we and members of our family have walked multiple Caminos and a variety of routes, getting to know people from all over the world as we walk, and making friends in Santiago when we volunteered with a non-profit pilgrim welcome center. It has been our privilege to hear many, many pilgrims share their experiences, and see God’s fingerprints in their stories. Some walk for the fun and adventure. Some walk it as a Catholic pilgrimage. And others walk for a reason similar to ours, that God was compelling us to walk, though we were not sure if we could express why, or what we hoped would come out of it.

You don’t have to be Catholic or any kind of Jesus-follower to walk the Camino, and we hope no one along the way will ever condemn any person for walking for any reason. The process of unplugging from your regular schedule of life back home makes space for God to meet you on the Camino, whether that is your intention or not. Setting aside everything familiar and comfortable for a time makes space for something else. Theologian (and Catholic priest) Henri Nouwen said, “Discipline is the human effort to create the space in which God can be generous and give you what you need.” That describes well a big part of our experiences when we have walked, and why we encourage others to walk. 

Go and walk. Receive what God has for you. Sow seeds of His love as you walk.

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Wick and Helen Van Wagenen first walked the Camino in 2007, and God has used every part of their experience to shape their lives since then. They are grateful for the opportunities to make many more trips to research routes, test gear, and volunteer along The Way. The Van Wagenens and their family and teammates continue making new trips, and enjoy helping others make the trip of a lifetime. You can contact them at Info@CaminoProvisions.com.