A journey of discovery along the Camino De Santiago

ACU Camino de Santiago

FOLLOWING in the footsteps of generations of pilgrims before them, 13 staff and friends of Australian Catholic University (ACU) will embark on a pilgrimage this month, walking the last 115km of the historic Camino De Santiago through the northwest of Spain from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. The Spanish word camino is ‘the Path’ or ‘Way’.

The Camino De Santiago is a network of pilgrim trails through Western Europe all leading to the shrine of the first martyred apostle Saint James the Great. Tradition has it that the remains of Saint James were taken from Jerusalem and reburied in Galicia at the site that is now the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Leading the ACU group on the medieval pilgrimage route will be ACU Associate Vice‐Chancellor (Victoria) Dr John Ballard who has previously walked the Camino. In 2011 he trekked 840km along ‘the French way’ starting in northern France. It was an opportunity to realise a 30-year-goal, having just completed 11 years as chief executive of Mercy Health.

“Before commencing with ACU I needed a reorientation to my post healthcare world,” Dr Ballard said.

“It is said that the Camino gives you what you need and not what you want.”  

Along the ‘Way’ Dr Ballard found more than spiritual reflection – he also met his future wife.

“I wanted to pursue an ambition held since my undergraduate years to follow in the footsteps of the medieval pilgrims on this, one of the three great Christian pilgrimages.  It is such a rich experience and full of surprises,” Dr Ballard said.

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“People trek the Camino for different reasons. Some carry a private intention, some with deep faith, some as penitents or questioning their faith, some simply to undertake a long reflective walk. The Camino experienced a minor revival in popularity in the mid-1990s and has become increasingly popular in recent years with the release of multiple movies and documentaries.”

The Way

Buen Camino –‘good journey’, is the greeting and parting words of those you meet along the ‘Way’. There are people of all nations, ages, abilities and the sharing of stories, experiences and silences creates a strong bond. It is common to meet someone and walk with them for part of a day and not run into them again for days or weeks and when you do, it is as though you have found your oldest friend.”

The 13-day guided pilgrimage includes six days of structured walking for a total 115 kilometres. Participants have an opportunity to explore Madrid, Santiago de Compostela, Finesterra – once thought to be the end of the Roman world – and many more historic sites and towns. They will discover the culture, art, spirituality, history, architecture and cuisine of Spain as they stride through the countryside. They may also discover things about themselves that they did not know.

“As well as an outer physical journey it’s also an inner, psychological and spiritual journey,” Dr Ballard said.

“Many people along the ‘Way’ experience deep reflection and discover or rediscover what is really important in their lives.”

“My life has become simpler, there is so much one does not need. I’m calmer and my son still marvels at that. A key lesson of the Camino is to be present, to live more in the moment and appreciate the little things. I can genuinely say that the Camino changed my life for the better.”

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The French Way (Camino Francés) and the Routes of Northern Spain are the courses which are listed in the World Heritage List by UNESCO. The Camino De Santiago is now one of today’s most popular pilgrimages.

  • Story courtesy of ACU



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