by Father Mike Stubbs
Special to The Leaven
A year ago, when I began walking the Way of St. James, I was surprised to discover that not all of my fellow pilgrims were motivated by religious faith. For example, when informed about the Mass with the blessing for pilgrims that would take place that evening to kick off the pilgrimage, one of them remarked that they were not interested. A few days later, I engaged in a conversation with a young woman from Japan who was making the pilgrimage. It turned out that she did not even believe in God.
I thought that it was very strange. These people were walking several hundred miles across northern Spain, on their way to Santiago de Compostela, to the shrine dedicated to St. James the Apostle, in a pilgrimage under the supervision of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela.
And yet, some of them had decidedly nonreligious motives for doing so. Some simply liked to hike. Some wanted to lose weight. Some wanted to see the scenery, to meet people, or to visit historic sites along the way.
At least, that’s what they said.
Of course, I did meet pilgrims who were clearly motivated by religious reasons: the group of nuns in full habit (I believe they were Polish), the group of French youth who were reciting the rosary one evening, the pilgrims who would attend the evening Mass in the local parish. But what about the others? What about those pilgrims seemingly not motivated by religious faith?
The characters in the recently released film “The Way” definitely fit into that category. They include lapsed Catholics and individuals with indeterminate religious backgrounds, if any. At times, they indulge in questionable practices, which makes the film suitable for mature audiences only. They are not behaving as good Catholics — even the star, Martin Sheen, who in real life is a devout Catholic.
But as they walk together, we learn that these are individuals who are broken and wounded. They are searching for purpose and meaning in their lives. Without realizing it, they are searching for God.
And each step of their journey brings them healing. Each step brings them closer to God. Their real destination turns out to be not just the shrine to St. James, but God. That makes their pilgrimage a spiritual journey, despite themselves.
In that respect, the film very closely reflects the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela as I experienced it. The film does not pretend to be accurate in the sense of a documentary; it’s a fictional story. Nonetheless, it clearly reveals the truth of what can happen on the Way of St. James. It points to the mysterious ways in which life can bring us closer to God, the mysterious ways in which life itself can turn out to be a spiritual journey, despite all our protestations.
“The Way” is playing at AMC Studio 30 in Olathe. For showtimes, check the website at: www.amctheatres.com/ Studio.