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Two pilgrimages, one Way: On Assisi and Santiago de Compostela

Can one commit pilgrimage “adultery”? In the months of planning leading up to my taking a group of pilgrims along a portion of La Via di Francesco—the Way of Saint Francis—to Assisi in Italy, I felt a strange sense of unease about how I might be engaged in a form of betrayal.

For my peregrino pilgrim credentials were well and truly forged in Spain on the famous Camino de Santiago. My first Camino back in 2017 was a life changing experience, and one that then again came to my rescue during the pandemic and lockdowns by offering me a way out of the madness. I owe a great deal to Saint James—in addition to him being my namesake—and to the Camino and to Spain.

By now I am so conditioned by my continual encounters with the Camino that I can spot a scallop shell—the symbol of Saint James and the Camino—from 100 yards away; the sight of a spray-painted yellow arrow on a concrete wall releases a shot of dopamine every time. Some people chant the Om mantra to connect to the Absolute Principle of existence—I just have to close my eyes and say the word Camino in my head or touch a backpack still covered in the dust of the day’s trail.

There are no yellow arrows or scallop shells on the Via di Francesco. It is marked by small yellow and blue striped patches—think mini-Ukraine flags, a somewhat incongruous coincidence given current tragic events—and by the Tau, the symbol of Saint Francis that looks like an elegant “T”. As our Via di Francesco group proceeded north from our starting point at Terni—about 70 kilometers north of Rome, and 108 kilometers of walking from Assisi—it was impossible not to compare and contrast the Way of Saint Francis and the Way of Saint James pilgrimages as we followed and got used to the different way markers.

That said, there is no genuine substance to the idea of a pilgrimage “standoff” between the two Ways—both pilgrimages are remarkable experiences taken in their entireties, each of which is worth doing. But in interrogating the differences between the two, the pilgrim is brought to a better and deeper understanding about his or her role in life, and about what both pilgrimages aim to reveal: the Tao, also known as the Way, amid the thickets and thorns of our contemporary world.

Read more at Catholic World 

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