Walking the ‘Camino’, in Search of Meaning

Hola! Bienvenido! ¡Buenos días! Welcome! These were my greetings to the pilgrims who stopped by our church of Our Lady of the Assumption. It is a 14th-century old Gothic church in the small village of Villatuerta, Navarra. Fr. Marlon Vargas, SVD, tells.

The church is located on the path of the Camino going to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Many peregrinos (pilgrims) come to our church, stay for a moment to pray, get their pilgrim’s credentials stamped, and quench their thirst with water from the church’s drinking fountain.

I introduced myself as the parish priest and asked for their names. Mindful of their disposition, I asked them further questions: Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What urged you to walk the Camino? They paused, took a deep breath, and gave the last question some thought before answering.

The responses led our encounter to a meaningful conversation. I did the Camino when I was still a seminary student in August 2017. I seized the chance to have a unique, special, and profound discernment. I spent time praying and seeking God’s guidance on the Camino to purify my motivation for pursuing a priesthood ministry, strengthen my desire to profess my perpetual vows as a religious missionary of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and find direction and inspiration to dedicate my entire life to serving God as an ordained minister.

After six years, I found myself on the other side of the road as someone who welcomes and converses with the pilgrims in our church. It brought up so many memories of my vocation discernment experience. God has led and guided me to where I am today–a priest serving as a religious missionary.

We could relate to the experiences of pilgrims. Many of them said that they were searching for something. A voice forced them to leave their daily lives, their families, their jobs, and their friends. They carried their backpacks and started the long journey. They’re walking the Camino because they’re in need of profound life discernment.

A young woman was figuring out how to have security in her life after she decided to leave her job as a life insurance agent. There was a young man who felt betrayed by the people he trusted at the company. He was fired from his work despite putting his all into his job. I also ran upon a newly ordained priest who was walking the Camino as his thanksgiving to God for reaching his priesthood ordination.

Another young man I met was eager to start his seminary preparation. His two companions, who were contemplating becoming lay missionaries, persuaded him to walk the Camino. I saw several pilgrims praying while in tears. As a means of coping with the loss of their loved ones, they were walking the Camino.

Many young people between the ages of 21 and 30 went on the Camino to reflect on their life goals. The diverse backgrounds and motivations of the pilgrims on the Camino were like our own experiences of tribulations in life. We are pilgrims on our faith life journey.

We are searching and discerning our vocation. We discern our vocation from where we are. We can ask ourselves questions such as, “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” “How can I tell what God’s will is for me?” These questions echo the life-changing question of a young rich man in Jesus’ parables in Matthew 19:16–20, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to achieve eternal life?”

Vocation discernment is a way of life in which we are urged to discover and know our true selves. It involves our understanding and awareness of our spiritual encounters with God and our desire to submit to His will.

Another essential aspect of vocation discernment is openness to God. It is a conversion that requires us to undergo a continuous process of personal transformation to free us from our disordered attachment and to gain a greater and deeper perception of who we are, what we need, and what we have planned. We have to be more transparent with ourselves, others, and God.

It is also important in vocation discernment to have a conversation regularly with a trustworthy person to seek assistance in integrating our faith and life. This person may be a spiritual friend, companion, or director.

The person acts as a guide for our spiritual journey, assisting us to discover God’s presence. As Saint Arnold Janssen, the founder of our congregation says, “We must allow ourselves to be led like little children by the guiding and governing hand of God’s providence. At times, circumstances will lead us to see that this or that course of action is God’s will and then it is time to jump in and act firmly and resolutely.” 

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Contact me at: javier@comboniyouth.org

Father Javier Alvarado Ayala