Once in a while, I see the question pop up on forums and message boards asking if you need to be religious to be able to walk the Camino to Santiago. This is not the case. Let’s expand on this answer and cover the religious and spiritual questions.
In the Middle ages walking to Santiago De Compostella was done to make up for your sins, and seek religious help or guidance from Saint John, Saint-Jean, or any of his other ways to spell the name. People traveled on foot, on horseback, and even on their knees to make up for what they did in the past. Today however it is most often not the case anymore, to walk the Camino because you seek redemption from God. People walk it for a million and one reasons that are incredibly personal, and at the same time shared at every pilgrim’s meal or hostel.
Reasons to walk the Camino de Santiago
Whatever your personal reasons for walking the Camino, it is not mandatory to do it for religious reasons. Sometimes you are asked for what reasons you are doing it, but that is entirely up to you if you want to disclose that. Most often you have a little three-choice answer, that says for Religious reasons, Spiritual, or other. Even if you want to spend the night in a church or Refugio from the church, you can still say that you just do it to meet some women, dudes, or whatever you are into. Just kidding of course. No reason to be disrespectful to people that are supplying you with a place to sleep for next to nothing.
But more often than not you have a deeper reason for walking the Camino. It can start as just another hiking trip for you, but after meeting the people along the way. Immersing yourself in the experience and the sheer challenge of it sometimes. You start to think a little deeper after a few weeks.
Although some people think of it as race, it is not. And I always grin a little bit when the first thing people ask me is how many kilometers a day you walk on the Camino. In the end, it doesn’t matter. You do you. If you feel like walking to the next town over today and eating, drinking, and lying in the sun. You are welcome to do that. If you feel you need to step it up a day then go for the 20, 30, 40, or however much you do in that day. Chances are that you will meet somebody that did even more than you that day.
The Camino can change your original reasons for walking it
The Camino de Santiago is intertwined with religion however and if you are religious you will wonder at all the different churches, cathedrals, and shrines that you will find on the way. In some Refugios that are still run by volunteers of the church, you also have the option to join in prayer, or church service.
For me, it didn’t start out as a Religious or Spiritual journey, before I hiked my first Camino (Portuguese coastal) though I was in a bad place. I just quit my job, was overweight, felt absolutely worthless, and picked up a few unhealthy habits. It quickly turned into much more than any hike that I did solo before. And for those reasons, I believe that the Camino can change your mind, and turn around your reasons for walking it in the first place.
So in closing, keep an open mind for your Camino experience. Talk to a lot of people, even if you are shy. And don’t be afraid to open up. As a computer nerd that has a nervous reaction to any phone call or having to meet new people, that was most challenging for me. Luckily a glass of Vino Tinto helps.
Share your reason down in the comments.
Happy hiking and Hike for Purpose!