Fr. Greg Markey’s slender (75 page) book, Discovering the Camino de Santiago: A Priest’s Journey to the Tomb of St. James,) may be unique among the hundreds of books currently in print about the famous pilgrimage road–because it is written from the point of view of a devout Catholic pilgrim.
It meets a real need: I met a young Catholic married couple one Sunday at an after-Mass social at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland who were planning to walk the Camino this Spring, and they told me that they couldn’t find any books about the Camino as a Catholic pilgrimage. They were greatly relieved when I told them about Fr. Markey’s book, which is decidedly not a guide for the kind of trekker who is looking only to check “Walk the Camino” off a bucket list.
Santiago [Sant Iago] means St. James, and “Santiago de Compostela” is the short way to refer to the Cathedral Shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain where the Apostle St. James the Greater is traditionally said to be buried. “Camino de Santiago” (often abbreviated as just “the Camino”) is the still shorter term used to refer to the network of roads across Europe that uncountable thousands have taken to the famous shrine of St. James. The ancient route to the shrine was even mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the fourteenth century: the much-traveled Wife of Bath had made an astounding number of pilgrimages: three times to Jerusalem, another time to Rome, and other times to other major pilgrimage sites, Boulogne in France, Cologne in Germany, and most apropos to this review, she had also gone to Santiago, in Spain.
Fr. Markey started researching his book as he prepared to travel prayerfully and contemplatively on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela during a sabbatical, from late June to late July in 2009. As he walked and gave thanks to God for the 10th anniversary of his ordination as a priest, he was only one of the one hundred forty five thousand eight hundred and seventy seven (145877) travelers along the the Camino that year.
More About Fr. Markey
Fr. Markey is the pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Norwalk, Connecticut. He celebrates Traditional Latin Masses in the Extraordinary Form there along with reverent Masses in the Ordinary Form. He is an active member of the Church Music Association of America, and he participates in the yearly Sacred Music Colloquium with his music director and choir members and supports a high-quality sacred music program at his parish. For more about his work as a pastor, see this. article about Fr. Markey in Regina Magazine’s Fall 2013 edition.
In his book, Fr. Markey provides background information that explains why pilgrims began trekking to the northwest corner of Spain centuries ago. Fr. Markey’s book presents the evidence for the traditional beliefs that St. James the Greater evangelized Spain, that he returned to Jerusalem, that he later died as the first martyr among the Apostles, and that his body was brought back to Spain for burial.
He quotes from significant Church documents about the shrine and provides some of the rich history of the Camino, including the homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which the pope gave at the Compostela Cathedral during a visit the year after Fr. Markey went there, in the Jubilee year of 2010.
Fr. Markey’s own journey to the shrine of St. James is humbly told, reverent, and inspiring. He describes how he walked along the road with a Vatican flag and an American flag hanging on his backpack and a rosary in his hand, handing out blessed Miraculous Medals as the opportunity presented itself, among a shifting stream of people who came from all around the world.
When asked why he wrote yet another book about the Camino, Fr. Markey replied that very few Americans know about its significance and that misinformation abounds. In his introduction, Fr. Markey says he wanted to write about the Camino “from the perspective of a believer” both because the Camino is rich in Catholic history and because the great contribution of the Apostle St. James to the evangelization of Hispanic peoples deserves to be better known. Because of the tradition of his having evangelized Spain, St. James the Greater is Spain’s patron saint.
A record of widespread devotion to the great Apostle remains in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Central and South America in the scores of cities and towns and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches, that bear Saint James’ name.
Fr. Markey walked four hundred and ninety-six often-painfilled miles along the popular portion of the Camino called the Camino Frances, which extends from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near France’s border to Compostela, and his pilgrimage took him a month. He walked the Camino with the resolution to offer up any sufferings he might experience along the way. In this and other ways, he reminds me quite a bit of the Chaucer’s parson, the priest who Chaucer described as rich “of hooly thoght and werk.”
Spiritual Fellow Travelers
Fr. Markey’s times of greatest camaraderie occurred during the occasions when he fell in with a pious and joyful group of Catholic young people who are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and who were apparently on the Camino for the same reasons as his own. After their paths kept crossing during the first part of the journey, they decided to join forces, and from that point on they read the Liturgy of the Hours, said the Rosary, and participated at Masses with Fr. Markey, until the end.
Fr. Markey’s goal was to arrive at the shrine by the Feast of St. James on July 25, and in spite of setbacks from “Brother Ass” that put his plan at risk, he made it–the day before the feast. He concelebrated with the Archbishop of Compostela and many other priests on the feast day, and a day later he was able to say a private Mass with the FOCUS group at the tomb of St. James.
At the end of the book, Fr. Markey wrote: “The experience of the Camino has been exhausting—perhaps the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life–yet filled with many graces. The Camino beats you down, wears you out and purifies you.”
Magdalena Rodriguez, in a customer review said this about the book at Amazon: “My husband an I are planning on going on the Camino De Santiago later this year and have been looking for Catholic books to read in preparation. Sadly, there are so few Catholic books for this Catholic Pilgrimage, and all the reading material is trying so hard to appeal to secular travelers that it almost seems like Catholic pilgrims are not welcome on the Camino. This was a breath of fresh air, and a wonderful read. Definitely recommend to others.”
Jordan Saxony, in another Amazon customer review wrote, “There are many books on the practical aspects of the Camino (logistics, what to bring, how to get around). This is not one of them. Instead it may very well be the best book in English suitable for any reader. Most of the Camino books treat the pilgrimage as something entirely naturalistic, like the Appalachian Trail; if they get “spiritual” at all, it is only in the sense of a New Age kind of easy spirituality, or perhaps a kind of psychological journey. Father Markey’s book is entirely different. The Camino is an ancient CATHOLIC pilgrimage route and the book is written by a truly faithful Catholic “peregrino”(pilgrim). It includes the history of Santiago – starting back in the Bible – as well as something most people are not aware of – references to the historical accuracy of this place as the tomb of St. James. The book also includes Pope Benedict’s beautiful homily at the Cathedral Compostela during the Jubilee Year of 2010….[T]here is nothing else like it in English.”
A Bit of Background
“For about twenty years I have been intrigued by the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a route that pilgrims have been walking for more than 1,000 years to the shrine of St. James the Apostle in Spain. I envied a fellow St. Ann choir member, Kerry McCarthy, a young professor of music at Duke, when I learned that she has walked portions of the Camino more than once. Before one choir dinner towards the end of one summer, Kerry gave me one of the tiny silver scallop shell charms she’d brought back to give away as souvenirs. Scallop shells are a symbol of St. James, and they are traditionally worn by pilgrims along the Camino.
“About a year later, I was visiting Kerry’s good friends, Susan and John Altstatt, while Kerry was on one of her summer treks along the Camino, and the Altstatts showed me a video of Kerry at a fountain along the way that has two faucets, one for water and one for red wine. They had prearranged with Kerry a time when she would be there, and John had figured out a way to capture the video from a web cam. So I got to see a grainy black and white clip that they captured of Kerry walking up to that fountain halfway around the world and filling her cup with wine. That is as close I’ll ever get to being there, I thought to myself, and I was glad to share vicariously in that bit of the pilgrim experience.”