A pilgrim arrives


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko has been walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Read his previous blog entries about the pilgrimage here.

After walking 800 kilometres, I finally reached Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish city at the end of my cross-country pilgrimage. But where was the Cathedral? My pace quickened as I marched towards the historic city centre, but still my ultimate destination remained obscured by the hilly terrain. The pavement was soon replaced by cobblestones and — there it is! — the church’s four spires could finally be seen through a gap in the buildings above.

The sound of bagpipes welcomed me to the cathedral square. It’s a strange instrument to hear in Spain, even after one learns that this coastal region (called Galicia) has Celtic roots. I didn’t stop to listen, though, nor did I pause for more than a brief moment as two fellow pilgrims congratulated me. I only wanted to see St. James.

I climbed a tall staircase to the front doors and waded through thick crowds of pilgrims and tourists — a task made more difficult by my unwieldy backpack. To the left of the altar, I spotted a downward staircase marked by the sign: “Sepulcrum Sancti Iacobi Gloriosum”— meaning, the “tomb of the glorious Saint James”.

He is the reason this pilgrimage exists. The apostle James son of Zebedee (distinguishing him from the apostle James son of Alphaeus) was one of the first disciples. The Gospel of Mark describes how he, along with his brother John, encountered Jesus at the Sea of Galilee and immediately left his life as a fisherman. Following the resurrection, it is believed that James traveled to Galicia to preach. He returned to Jerusalem and was martyred, but tradition holds that his remains were brought back to his mission territory.

I felt a huge sense of relief as I proceeded to the crypt and knelt in front of the silver reliquary. My initial prayer was simply “St. James, St. James, St. James,” over and over again. My heart swelled with gratitude for his intercession along the way, guiding me and the millions of others who trod this path before me.

Walk, pray, love


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko has been walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Read his previous blog entries about the pilgrimage here.

“All I have to do is walk”. This is what I told myself in the weeks leading up to my pilgrimage, as I imagined how simple life was about to become. The Camino de Santiago seemed like a total escape from day-to-day life. At home, I often wonder how I’m going to accomplish all that is required of me. But on the Camino de Santiago? You just walk and pray. I can handle that.

In reality, the Camino still requires some decision-making. Pilgrims ask themselves: should I walk alone today, or join someone else? For dinner, do I indulge in a “pilgrim menu” at a restaurant, or survive another day on sandwiches? Should I search for a wifi signal to check my email, or totally disconnect? Lastly, there is the daily question: when do I stop walking and rest for the night?

These questions cause little stress, naturally, since the choices are limited. But they can be made more difficult by the strange dynamics of the pilgrim community.

Though I traveled here alone – as did most of the pilgrims I’ve met – I didn’t stay that way for long. Like a nomadic convoy, a group has formed among the pilgrims who walk around the same pace and distance every day. While the scenery has been constantly changing over several hundred kilometres, amazingly, the people have remained largely the same.

Like any community, there are people in need. Someone needs a band-aid for his blistered foot. Someone lost her camera and needs help retracing her steps. Someone doesn’t want to eat alone and needs a friend.

There may exist pilgrims who are meant to walk the Camino in prayerful isolation. But for most of us, the pilgrimage has become a school of love of neighbor – in this sense, not far removed from our lives at home. Whether we are walking along an ancient trail, or working late in the office, or caring for a child with the flu, the obligation is the same: loving God and neighbour is all we need to do.

Where is God on the Camino?


S+L’s Kris Dmytrenko is walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. He may write regular updates for the blog, or he may not until he reaches the end–as the spirit (and wifi availability) leads him.

The Camino de Santiago is infused with Spanish Catholicism — as it should be, since this walking pilgrimage leads to the remains of the apostle St. James, buried in north-west Spain.

Yet the Camino’s appeal extends to non-Christians, as well. The beauty of the French and Spanish countryside, combined with the unparalleled adventure of walking 800 km, can push the figure of St. James into the background. His image is everywhere, but it’s evident that many pilgrims only vaguely understand who is he, what he was martyred for, and why we venerate his relics.

So can God still be found on the Camino, particularly for those still searching for Him?

As I was wondering this, I met Helen. I had seen her before at a few of the evening masses in various towns, but we had never spoken until we stayed at the same pilgrim hostel one night.

Helen shared with me that she had just been confirmed into the Catholic Church before she began the Camino. This was her second Camino, in fact, and it was during the first pilgrimage a year ago that she encountered Jesus for the first time.

In the village where Helen and I were staying, the church remained locked apart from Sunday mass. But Helen found the local woman who had the key, and the church was opened for us. There we sat in silence, in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Here, in the tabernacles of the hundreds of churches along the pilgrimage, God is found by pilgrims every day. As Helen quietly thanked God for coming into her life one year ago, I was reaffirmed in my conviction that God is still watching over his pilgrimage.

Madrid: One year later

A year ago Madrid was getting ready to receive the pope. The youth of the world arrived in Madrid to celebrate the faith. But one year after, were there fruits?

I first thought about this when Salt and Light prepared the anniversary of WYD 2002. As a staff member for the Madrilenian WYD I asked myself what fruits the did event give the Church? Keeping in mind is too early to see the real fruits, and knowing WYD is a work of God is so big, we may never be able to measure the real effects it had.

To realize what the results are we need to look at what is the purpose of WYD and the goal is nothing less than show that the church is alive and the model of life offered by the church is in fact something more relevant than ever. Looking at WYD Madrid we realize despite of all of the difficulties many people went through during that week, all participants will say was the experience of a lifetime.

My work at WYD brought me to Salt and Light and from my point of view that is one of the fruits together with many others. In Madrid my job was taking care of the content of the official Portuguese web site. It was an amazing experience to share the stories of hundreds of young people around the world making sacrifices to be there, to celebrate their faith together with other people, to have the Holy Father Benedict XVI there thanking them for choosing the way of Christ.

But the experience that really showed me what the Catholic faith is about was my work with the Portuguese Conference of Bishops.  My function was to organize a general meeting for all Portuguese pilgrims. After five months of work on August 18, 8.000 young boys and girls celebrated Christ in their lives, jumping singing and waving flags.

Why that event was so important for me? My past is connected with youth ministry I arrived in Madrid with nothing less than 14 years of experience as a youth minister. In Madrid I was seeing all my work coming to maybe to its most visible fruition. As a youth minister my concern was always try to get young people walking close to God and to not be afraid of showing what they really believe.  That moment in the Madrid Arena was living proof of it.

So looking at all of this WYD Madrid has already given fruits for both those who went and met God in their lives,  and also those who followed the event from afar and were captivated by these young Catholics standing firm in their faith

San Fermin: The saint behind the running of the bulls


One of the most famous feasts in Spain is that of San Fermin in the city of Pamplona. Everyone has seen the images of people dressed in white running in front of the bulls. Behind that feast is Saint Fermin of Amiens. Who is he?

Fermin is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century. He was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptized by Saturninus at the spot now known as the Pocico de San Cernin, the “Small Well of San Cernin”, across from the facade of the church dedicated to St Cernin, which is built on the foundations of a pagan temple.

According to the local legend, he was ordained a priest in Toulouse, and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later voyage preaching the gospel, Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France. He died on September 25, AD 303. Several miracles are associated with the discovery and translation of the relics of Saint Fermin in the time of Savin, bishop of Amiens. It is said that a sweet odor arose from his grave. The smell caused ice and snow to melt, flowers to grow, the sick to be cured, and trees to be inclined reverently toward the saint.

The reason why he is celebrated in  Pamplona with the running of the  bulls is because of an incident attributed to Fermin that actually happened to his master Saturninus. Legend says he was arrested and condemned to the death penalty because of his faith. He was tied to a bull by his feet and dragged to his death. In spite of the fact it was not Fermin who died that way the people of Pamplona started celebrating San Fermin with bull races, the Encierros.

These celebrations have fascinated countless people around the world. Ernest Hemingway wrote a book about the Encierros. The Sun Also Rises is set in Pamplona during the feast of San Fermin.

The universal Church celebrates Saint Fermin of Amiens on September 25. In Pamplona the feast takes place on July 7 because the bulls are such a vital part of the celebration and the bull fairs take part in July.


Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service

St. Elizabeth of Portugal: Bread into roses


Yesterday the universal church celebrated Elizabeth of Portugal known in her home country as Saint Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1271, she was the daughter of Peter III of Aragon and was married off to King Denis of Portugal in 1282.  From the beginning Elizabeth showed a great compassion to the poor.

Legend says she would leave the palace disguised, in order to take food to the poor. She was very devoted to God and also passed great part of her time in prayer.

One of the miracles attributed to her is the “miracle of the roses”. After the king had discovered she was leaving the palace to take food to the poor he forbade her to do it. He threatened to lock her up and confine her to the palace. She never gave up and every day she was still leaving behind the king’s back. One day in the winter time she was carrying pieces of bread hidden in her dress. The King saw her going out and stopped her asking, “What you are carrying?” She answered, “Roses, my lord.” He didn’t believe because it was winter. He asked her to show him the roses. Obediently she unfolded the dress and there were roses instead of bread.

This is the most famous miracle attributed to her. She was always an example of devotion to God and to those in need. When her husband died in 1325, she entered in a convent of Poor Claires in Coimbra where she spent the rest of her days.

She left the convent one time in the summer of 1336 to try to stop a war between her son, Alphonse IV of Portugal,  and her grandson, Alphonse XI of Spain.  In spite of being sick she walked to the middle of the battle field and did not leave until the two men came to a resolution peacefully. The battle was averted, but Elizabeth died shortly after.

Pope Urban VIII canonized her in 1625 and choose the date of her death, July 4 as her feast day.

Walking the talk: Spanish clergy funds diocesan food bank

The economic crisis weighing down on Europe has caused staggeringly high unemployment rates, resulting in some families losing part or all of their income. People who never had trouble making ends meet, now find they need help feeding their families. At the same time many people who used to donate faithfully to aid agencies, have had to reduce their support in order to feed their own families.

The result is more demand on aid from charities like Caritas, a church-run charity, and fewer resources with which to help those in need.

In Spain, the bishop of Segovia, Angel Rubio, called on his priests to follow him and “walk the talk” so to speak. During the Chrism Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday he asked his priests to do as he was doing and donate 10 percent of their salaries to Caritas for one entire year.

The money would be used to fund a Caritas food bank in the diocese. The bishop also called for a campaign to recruit volunteers to help staff the food bank.

Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s international aid agency, has national organizations in countries throughout Europe. Those national branches help fund aid initiatives overseas and run programs like food banks and soup kitchens in many European dioceses.

Photo: Pope Benedict visits Caritas soup kitchen in Rome

Photo courtesy of CNS

2011 Year in Review – Perspectives Weekly

Tonight on Perspectives: The Weekly Edition, Pedro reviews the big moments of 2011. Who better to talk to than three of Salt + Light’s producers who have been there covering those events. Kris Dmytrenko, Alicia Ambrosio and Cheridan Eygelaar give Pedro their perspective about the key moments for the Church in 2011.

Broken pilgrims seek something deeper on ‘The Way’

Last Wednesday, the Salt + Light team attended a pre-screening of The Way starring Martin Sheen. I went along just to have a night out, but after seeing it, the film became more than that. The movie was simply beautiful and inspirational — a vivid portrait of human character.

The film follows the journey of Tom (played by Martin Sheen) to complete what his adventurous son Daniel (Sheen’s real-life son Emilio Estevez) could not — the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The Camino, or Way of St. James, is a famous pilgrimage along the coast of Spain. It ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where tradition holds that the remains of the Apostle Saint James are buried.

Tom, grieving after the loss of his son Daniel, who died on the pilgrimage, embarks on the trek completely against his own inclinations. Along ‘the Way’, Tom encounters other pilgrims with their own motivations — each with his own hope, goal, or intention, each with his own brokenness, insecurities and frustrations. The little community that these pilgrims somewhat reluctantly establish brings out the best and the worst in them, and pushes them to face something even deeper than their own needs and suffering. The Way reveals the journey of friendship among complete strangers, each walking into the shadowed corners of the past.

The movie is layered with a beautiful soundtrack, breathtaking imagery, and delightful moments of humour and levity. I walked away touched by its realness, its character portrayal, its story, and its depth. The themes of the film are certainly Christian, and at moments Catholic. Don’t miss it on the big screen.

The Way opens today at select theatres. For show times and locations in the Toronto area, click here. The film opens in select other cities next Friday. Check Cinema Clock for details.

CNS: Recap of Pope Benedict’s trip to World Youth Day

Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service’s Rome correspondent, gives us an overview of Pope Benedict’s recently-completed trip to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day.