by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Even in a moment when you’re physically alone on the Way of St. James — the Camino de Santiago — you’re never truly by yourself, believes Father Michael Stubbs, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park.
“You’re doing something that millions of people have done before you,” he said of the pilgrimage that Christians have been making since the year 814.
Father Stubbs has hiked the Camino Frances, a popular route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, solo.
But this year, two traveling companions from close to home — Father Peter Jaramillo, SSA, and Father Stubbs’ brother Tony Stubbs — made the pilgrimage with him, inspired by his previous experience.
They took a different route this time, and the journey along the Camino Primitivo came at an especially powerful time for Father Peter, pastor of St. Mary-St. Anthony, St. John the Baptist and Holy Family parishes in Kansas City, Kansas.
“It was one of my bucket list desires to complete in my life,” said Father Peter.
The timing seemed good, especially as his commitment as national spiritual adviser for the Cursillo movement — which is deeply rooted in the pilgrimage concept of the Camino — wound to a close.
“And for me, it became a whole lot more clear that this is what God intended for me to do as I reflected on many things in my life,” he said.
It was particularly fitting as he prepared to leave Kansas this fall for a military deployment in Kosovo to support soldiers as chaplain on a peacekeeping mission with the Kansas Army National Guard 35th Infantry Division.
Although he has ministered with the military overseas twice before, the Camino bolstered his spirit as he prepared for his third deployment.
Starting early each morning, the men walked 10-15 miles a day to complete the roughly 200-mile journey that Father Peter found challenging but fun, exhausting yet purifying.
Father Peter’s prayer intentions along the way included his family — he has lost two brothers in the past few years — and his parishes, Cursillo, the Society of St. Augustine and the military.
He takes to heart the message on the pilgrimage of the soul from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” — that hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord.
“We journey through this life until we find the eternal city of God,” said Father Peter.
Tony Stubbs had several friends who completed similar pilgrimages several times and was intrigued by their experiences, as well as by his brother’s.
The timing worked especially well for this summer’s trip because, as his wife made plans with her sisters during the spring, he struck a deal: “Well, if you’re going to do that, I’m going to do this with my brother.”
He still wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into as the three men planned their trip — and also hiked many miles along Kansas trails to break in their shoes and get used to hauling 35-pound backpacks.
The highlights were many once the three reached Spain and started climbing the mountainous paths of the Camino Primitivo, aiming to reach Santiago de Compostela in time for the feast day of St. James the Greater on July 25.
Tony particularly enjoyed witnessing Father Peter and Father Stubbs concelebrating Masses at churches and cathedrals.
Midway through their trip, they planned to stop to eat and rest in a village called La Mesa, he said, which means “the table” in Spanish.
But when they arrived, they didn’t find what they expected.
“No food, no café, not even a vending machine in sight,” said Tony.
So they figured they’d approach it as a sacrifice, explained Father Peter. They had a bit of fruit and some cookies to tide them over.
But they wondered what would happen if more people turned up expecting the same thing — as they soon did.
All said some prayers, and an answer came. One of the new arrivals had friends nearby — and a cellphone.
Soon, the group had transportation and was able to stock up on supplies.
“We had a wonderful feast among these people, among strangers,” said Father Peter.
As they broke bread together, they thanked God.
“It was a turning point in this whole journey,” said Father Peter. “God will provide even when you have very little. . . . He’ll multiply the goodness.”
Although Father Stubbs’ first journey to Santiago was about 500 miles, this shorter trek presented more mountainous terrain. The journey was challenging physically and can also result in spiritual growth, he said.
The interesting people they met especially moved Father Stubbs — starting with the king of Spain, who traditionally attends Mass at the cathedral in Santiago on the feast of St. James.
But they also met a group of young men from Phoenix, a deacon and his wife from North Carolina, and also some women from North Carolina who played bluegrass.
A couple women that Father Stubbs met spoke perfect French. (He majored in French in college).
And people from all over the world extended hospitality.
“Everyone that you met and came across along ‘the Way’ was fantastic,” said Tony. “It’s religious for everyone for different reasons and in varying degrees,” he said. “My faith was bolstered by the observance that people really can get along and help one another when it gets down to the basics.”
Although the pilgrimage itself has ended, it was only the beginning in many ways.
It left Father Peter with a sense of peacefulness and readiness for his months of deployment.
And all three are looking to the future — already open to organizing another pilgrimage along a different way to Santiago.