Over 347.000 people choose to walk El Camino de Santiago every year. If we add to this, a multitude of pilgrims who only walk certain sections of the Way, or walk the Camino in different European countries, the number is probably closer to over a million pilgrims each year.
What is it that draws these people to take weeks or months out of their lives and spend them on a pilgrimage to a Catholic saint? Most of them aren’t even religious, let alone Catholic. To exchange the comforts of home and a nice comfortable bed for a stay in pilgrim hostels with a bunch of strangers (most of which snore), To replace their air-conditioned cars with walking for hundreds of kilometres in the heat and in the rain, carrying a heavy backpack.
It isn’t the middle ages after all, when church and faith played a major role in everyday life of almost everyone, where people undertook a pilgrimage to get their health back, to atone for their sins, or simply if they wanted to be closer to God.
In this restless world where colourful billboards and interactive ads encourage people to amass more and more possessions, where technology provides comfort and luxury not accessible to royalty in the middle ages, where the worth of a person is frequently measured by the size of their bank account – people seem to be missing something.
With all that material wealth, there is an increased yearning for something beyond material values, a yearning for some kind of deeper meaning to life, for a better understanding of how to be happy or how to deal with life’s misfortunes. This material world is sadly lacking in providing answers to those questions. and yet the Camino seems to be helping a lot of people find those answers on their own, helping them find a way, the truth and the life. The kind of life we are meant to be living, the kind of life we were created for.
The Camino teaches this, but not as a harsh school teacher. It doesn’t teach using complicated words or big books. The Camino helps people learn on their own, it helps them realize some very interesting life lessons in a way that is easy to comprehend.
It doesn’t always happen immediately, sometimes it takes years to figure out some lessons from the Camino. Nearly everyone who walks the Camino has a spiritual experience, some deeper, some less so, but the vast majority of pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago are transformed in a way. That transformation tends to make them a better person even if just slightly, even if it takes longer for some. But the spiritual seeds are definitely present in a vast majority of pilgrims.