An integral part of any successful pilgrimage is that moment of self-doubt when you ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
This was a question often uttered along the route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which I walked last fall. On the rough days, as we shuffled along the seemingly interminable path, pummeled by cold rain and hobbled by blisters, we all faced the temptation to quit and go home. Some did.
Yet for me, however, the Camino wasn’t the most difficult pilgrimage I’ve participated in – not by a long shot. That honour belongs to an arduous walk from Midland, Ontario to Quebec City in 2008. A diverse team of pilgrims made the journey carrying the “Ark of the New Covenant”, a wooden religious object covered with icons. It was commissioned to be one of the symbols of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Quebec City that year.
The pilgrimage started inauspiciously, when the team leader contracted pneumonia after walking through a blizzard. Fortunately for me, I was scheduled to join the pilgrimage a few weeks later, so I escaped the worst weather. But that didn’t make it feel much easier.
I met up with the pilgrims in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, as the pilgrimage route veered northeast before circling back to Quebec City. My role was substitute cameraman, since we were filming the pilgrimage for a reality series called “64 Days with the Ark” and our usual crew was unavailable. Keep in mind, I’m a producer at S+L, not a cameraman by trade. On top of the steep technical learning curve, there were the logistical challenges of filming the pilgrimage. Pilgrims, by their very nature, are seldom static. Every day, I would have to run ahead with my unwieldy camera equipment so that I could film the Ark as it approached, only to fall behind, and repeat again and again.
We trekked onwards past Shawinigan, up to the Saint-Antoine Capuchin hermitage, and through countless villages, stopping for gatherings in tiny parish churches along the way.
When I was in Spain, I had no trouble finding fellow Anglophones. Not so in northern Quebec, where most locals were unilingual. Their French, spoken with a thick Quebecois accent, sounded nothing like the second language I learned in school.
The longing to speak in my native tongue exemplified my general sense of disorientation. How did I, an English television producer from the city, end up masquerading as a francophone cameraman in the rural hinterland?
Ultimately, I reached my destination, with conflicting feelings of relief and sadness that my pilgrimage was over. Grateful for having persevered, I returned home with the footage we needed to complete the series “64 Days with the Ark”.
64 Days with the Ark will air on S+L Television on Friday nights starting March 17. The finale on June 14 coincides with the fifth anniversary of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.
Credit: CNS photo/courtesy of International Eucharistic Congress