People from all over the world are taking part in the virtual version of a Tasmanian pilgrimage this weekend.
The Way to St James from Mountain River to Cygnet was inspired by Spain’s Camino de Santiago.
COVID-19 has moved the Tasmanian event online, but pilgrims from around the world are connecting to share the experience.
The Way to St James, a pilgrimage in the Huon Valley from Mountain River to St James Church in Cygnet, inspired by Spain’s Camino de Santiago, moved online last year because of COVID-19.
It attracted 350 participants last year, but this year about 1,400 people from various corners of the globe have indicated their interest in taking part.
“They come from five continents across the world … we have people in America and Canada, we have people in the UK and in South Africa and Namibia, people in Argentina, people walking in Aruba … [and] a lot in Europe,” Way to St James committee member Leanne Pritchard said.
“Some are walking on particular walking paths, others are walking in parks and nature in their neighbourhood.”
A group of pilgrims in Croatia will walk together on Hvar Island as part of the event and finish at the local St James Church.
There are also people across Australia taking part.
Participants in the two-day event can choose to walk 15 kilometres each day, or as little or as far as they are able to, and are encouraged to share their walk on social media.
It will start on Saturday with a blessing by Father Michael Tate in Mountain River, which will be streamed live. The final ritual from Cygnet’s St James Church on Sunday will also be broadcast online.
A Personal Journey
Laura Roelofs, from Turnhout in Belgium, said she would take part with her horse, Nikita.
Ms Roelofs walked the last 120km of the Camino Frances in Spain in 2018, which she said had a huge spiritual impact on her.
“I always knew I would go back to walk longer distances. Then COVID happened so at the moment I don’t know when my next Camino in Spain will take place,” she said.
“Back in 2018 a fellow pilgrim told me, ‘The Camino is not only a big walk to the city of Santiago, but first of all a personal journey in your heart’.
“This is why I participate in this global Camino. And because it is from home I can take my beloved horse who loves to go on an adventure in our beautiful forests.”
Jose Mari Ardanaz will join from Pamplona in Spain, a city that is one of the main starting points of the Camino de Santiago.
“My idea will be walking up to the Alto del Perdon [Mountain of Forgiveness], one of the famous places in the Camino de Santiago,” Mr Ardanaz said.
“There is a big monument of pilgrims from the top, so I will hopefully be joining [the other pilgrims] live from the top of the mountain.”
Ms Pritchard said she was inspired by the others taking part in the virtual pilgrimage.
“One of the pilgrims in Canada posted that they are walking in minus-24 degrees,” she said.
“It’s really inspiring to have people braving the elements across the world.”
United through a ‘meditative walk’
Fr Tate, who founded the Huon Valley pilgrimage, said the virtual version seemed to have “tapped into a real need around the world”.
“Our pilgrimage is for any person of any faith — or indeed, none at all — open to a meditative walk through natural surroundings, so as to join in a common endeavour around the world to restore body, mind and spirit in these anxiety-ridden times,” he said.
The Camino de Santiago is a series of paths that fan out beyond the Iberian Peninsula and spread across Europe.
Whichever route a pilgrim takes, they all end at Santiago’s cathedral, reportedly home to the tomb of St James who, according to Catholic tradition, brought Christianity to Spain and Portugal.
Cygnet’s Spanish-style St James Church inspired Fr Tate to start the Huon Valley pilgrimage in 2016.
Ms Pritchard has walked every Way to St James in Tasmania, and walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018.
“I went solo from Tasmania over to Spain and I was really a bit focused on doing it for myself, but the richest part of the experience was connecting with others,” she said.
“When you go on those walks [in Spain] it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, where you come from … there’s a real sense of community where no one judges, everyone’s welcome”.
She said many of those who have signed up for the virtual Way to St James had done one of the Camino pilgrimages in Spain.
“It’s a real thing that is unifying these pilgrims across the world at a time when there’s not a lot of good news around at the moment, so it’s a positive thing that they can have in their lives.”
Ms Pritchard said she would start her walk from Mountain River.
“I might do a little bit of the actual Tassie walk and take some photos and share those so that people who are walking all over the world can see what our Tassie Camino is like,” she said.
Mr Ardanaz said even though participants were far apart, “we are all in Camino”.
“During COVID, all the Camino community has come together as one,” he said.