by Richard Zweck
On 13 September 2013, my son Jon and I stepped, weary but triumphant, into the huge courtyard in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Behind us lay an experience we will not forget. We had completed walking part of the Camino Portugués (Camino means ‘path’)—the pilgrims’ way that links Lisbon in Portugal with Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Santiago de Compostela is, by tradition, the resting place of St James, Jesus’ brother, and has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. This pilgrimage grows in popularity every year; recently it was celebrated in the film The Way. The story behind our own pilgrimage was a pilgrimage in itself!
For most of my life, I didn’t give pilgrimage a moment’s thought. This changed the first time I visited Chartres cathedral in France. Notre Dame, Chartres, has the most famous labyrinth in the world, and I was there to train as a labyrinth facilitator. (Scholars believe that labyrinths were placed in churches as a convenient mini-pilgrimage).
On the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday, I was woken by a great deal of noise outside my room. Unable to sleep, I went out to investigate. To my amazement there were thousands of young people packing up after an outdoor service beside the cathedral. I watched as they hoisted their banners and set off in a long line towards Paris. On Monday after Pentecost an even larger group of young people arrived in Chartres from Paris. I later found out that I had witnessed the annual Pentecost Pilgrimage between Chartres and Paris. The local newspaper’s headline announced that there were over 23,000 young pilgrims.