A couple of weeks ago, I was in Portugal and Spain walking to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostella through vineyards and fields, over hills and mountains, along cities and villages, and on paths and streets which were used by pilgrims for hundreds of years. For about two weeks, I hiked from Porto in northern Portugal to Santiago in north-western Spain. On the way and in the pilgrims’ hostels, I met many other pilgrims of different ages and diverse backgrounds, and we occassionally talked about the reasons for doing this foot pilgrimage, which was at times painful and exhausting. We had blisters on our feet, were worn out from carrying all what we need on our backbags, and could not sleep well in the dormitories in the hostels. However, it emerged during the conversations that for many of us pilgrims, the hike to Santiago was somewhat comparable to what we read in the first reading of today: the Israelites left Egypt, the land of slavery, and were on their way to the Promised Land. Similarly, during the days of walking, many pilgrims thought and prayed over issues which bothered them and others, which somewhat enslaved them and others. Many expressed a strong hope that the journey, which was at times challenging and overwhelming, would lead them to some sort of Promised Land: getting clarity about what to do with one’s life, knowing how to deal with a problematic relationship, asking forgiveness for wrongs done in the past, and so on. We were like the Israelites - hoping and trusting in God’s guidance during our journey. Perhaps we had not reached our Promised Land when arriving in Santiago, but the collective walking in solitude was healing and reminded us of a saying attributed to St. Augustine: Solviture ambulando
,“it is solved by walking.” Many of us felt during the days of walking that the Lord was with us, leading us out of the land of Egypt, as the first reading says. These days were a time of grace, strengthening our faith in the Christ, who is on our side and supporting us, even when we feel unworthy of his presence and support. We realized what the Gospel of today says about Christ: “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench.”
Let us pray that we have the courage and commitment to leave behind what enslaves us and to walk towards the freedom of the Children of God, trusting that Christ is on our side accepting us as we are.