Spring 2024 Pilgrimages: Berlin & Camino de Santiago

June 6, 2024

Begun in 2011, the Chaplaincy Pilgrimage program includes 30 pilgrimages to ten countries and five states. Each pilgrimage team consists of between eight and 12 students who participate in a spring semester course and travel experience. Past pilgrimages have taken students across the world, from Wyoming, North Carolina, and Arizona to South Korea, Poland, and the Holy Land.

In March 2024, University Chaplain Craig Kocher and Associate Chaplain Bryn Taylor led a walking pilgrimage along the last 100 kilometers of the French Way of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Participants hiked an average of 12-15 miles per day as they journeyed from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, arriving at the Cathedral where the bones of St. James are believed to be buried.

The semester-long course and pilgrimage explored the religious, cultural, and aesthetic landscape of Spain and the rich Catholic spirituality that has shaped the Camino for centuries. Throughout the course, participants studied spiritual practices that were implemented on the trail and may be cultivated in daily life.

In their own words, students from the Camino team share what the experience meant to them: 

The beauty of the countryside humbled me entirely; it was beyond my understanding how something so incredible could simply exist. That is where I found the importance of walking into faith. When I was able to stop attempting to think about my faith, I was finally able to accept that God is someone larger than comprehension, and that is okay. I do not need to understand it all to believe that it is there.

I began to truly notice the world around me: the chirping of birds, the rustle of the wind, the gentle running of a nearby stream, elements that had always been present on my walk but had escaped my awareness. This realization regarding awareness prompted a shift in how I approached my faith, emphasizing the significance of actively being fully present in the moment with God, appreciating the beauty of each day, and acknowledging the journey of faith I was undertaking.

Walking the Camino turned my spiritual practice into a living dialogue, infused with the stories and struggles of fellow pilgrims, the ancient pathways beneath our feet, and the ever-changing landscapes that surrounded us: bridges to windmills, to mountains, to farms. This journey taught me to see faith not just as a series of rituals or doctrines, but as an active, ongoing engagement with life's deepest questions, joys, and challenges.

Our life is a pilgrimage. Our lives are spiritual journeys, filled with their own versions of strangers becoming friends, questions yearning to be answered, acts of community, injuries, flight cancellations, uphills, downhills and rest. When I yearn for the specific context of Spain and the Camino, I find a greater purpose that the goals I had there remain with me. My actions matter, and my journey with faith is far from complete.

Jewish Chaplain and Director of Religious Life Josh Jeffreys and Catholic Chaplain Tom Mullen also led a Pilgrimage over spring break to Berlin, Germany. Along with nine student participants from a variety of religious backgrounds, the group spent the week in the German capital exploring the city's efforts towards remembrance and reconciliation following the traumatic events of the Holocaust, World War II, and Cold War. The group also connected to broader themes of trauma, healing, and the role multifaith dialogue might play in advancing a just society.  Of particular interest was the way narratives surrounding Nazi Germany and the Holocaust appear today in discourse surrounding Israel and Palestine and conversations concerning antisemitism. 

Upon returning to campus, the nine pilgrims created a short video montage to share their learnings with the UR community. You can click here to hear their reflections on their semester long course and travel experience.