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Our Dominican Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago

In August we sent our prayers with S. Francis Clare and S. Mary Susanna. For eight weeks we were part of their Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, following their progress via social media. Our pilgrims arrived home in October and share their reflections with us. While the rest of us were planning our spring garden and  enjoying sunny summer days, S. Francis Clare Fischer and S. Mary Susanna Vasquez  were training for a month of walking and the pilgrimage of a lifetime!

Q: Why the Camino de Santiago? Why now?

S. Francis Clare - “The Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis, had me wanting to do something special that would make a lasting difference through the remainder of my life journey.  As a Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose, 2016 is also the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order and the founder, Dominic de Guzman, was born in Spain.  It seemed so fitting to travel in Spain.  Perhaps Dominic, at some point walked the Camino.”

S. Mary Susanna - “The Camino was an extraordinary experience that will forever be in my mind and heart because of its transformative power. Both the redemptive and beautiful aspects attracted me.”

Q: What is your most vivid memory of your journey?

S. Francis Clare - “There are hundreds of vivid memories.  One was in the Basilica of Santiago de Compostella, in a small chapel on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I was chosen to proclaim the 1st reading at Mass.  Mass was in English for the first time since beginning our pilgrimage.  After reading, I sat and reflected, shed tears of joy and thanked God for the honor it was.  

Every day there were “Aha!” moments meeting people and hearing their stories of why they were making the journey – praying with a young man finally working through the grief of losing his father when he was only 11 years old. Several times we would stop in the middle of a city, looking at our map book and not sure which way to go then a “Camino Angel” would drive up, and ask if he/she could help and point us in the right direction.

S. Mary Susanna - “The quiet! The sound of my feet against the grainy trails, the sunrises at our back, pilgrims from all over the world and all the holy churches. One of my favorite churches was San Pedro in Ponferrada. It’s mural of saints with St. Peter at the center invited me in not just once but a few times. The image of Christ on the cross also spoke profoundly to me. The one and only albergue in San Bol was like an oasis in the desert.  We walked the day’s journey in terrible heat and when we arrived there was a pool of natural water.

photo of S. Francis Clare resting creeksideThe daily walking and reflecting times, asking myself –  “Have I got the balance right in my life between the busyness of the ego and the being-ness of spirit?”  I continue to carry that question with me every day. The regions of Spain, each different, were an inspiration of God’s creation, so varied, so life-giving.  After our first night in Orisson, going outside and seeing the sun rise over the fog-covered Pyrenees Mountains took my breath away.”

It’s coolness under the trees’ shade was one of my most memorable places of refreshment.  Lastly, a very special place was the Cathedral in Santiago and the three time visit to the resting place of St. James at which I was moved to tears as I knelt in prayer and laid before him the prayer intentions from people at home. It was very grounding to live amid a rural life.”

Q: Describe the ‘transformative’ power of walking the Camino.

S. Francis Clare - “When I’m able to continue with my walking each day, I feel more alert and have an overall sense of well-being.  I am so very grateful for good health and attribute much of it to my parents who were some of the “original” healthy eating advocates, Mom making our bread and buying organic food at “The Food Mill.”  Dad always planted a garden in the back yard.

I went into the Camino feeling strong and ready…but stopped often to rest, take off shoes, socks and massage my feet.  I was not able to carry my backpack until a couple of weeks into the pilgrimage.  During those two weeks, I put a couple items back in and soon felt comfortable with it.  The backpack went from being my “cross” to being my “guardian angel.”  Spiritually, I learned just how little I really need to get along.  Since being home, I am trying slowly to let go of things I do not need.  Use them and when I finish, pass them along to others.  My prayer time has become richer and just as I carried a reflection phrase, question or practice with me each day, I hope to continue that as well. I have an overall feeling of being so enriched in every way.”

S. Mary Susanna - “I’m still unpacking the experience, which by the way, will probably take a lifetime.  Each day a little more of the extraordinariness of this journey unfolds. For one, I’ve learned more appreciation for God’s gifts to me, to us. The people of Spain displayed responsible care of creation.  There was little evidence of fast food containers, coffee-to-go paper cups, etc. I’m working at following their good practices.

I’ve lost interest, for now anyway, in filling my head with popular music.  Instead, I’m enjoying instrumental music and public radio. I think I’ve learned to be more patient. The people of Spain gave good example of patience in driving. They showed no example of ‘road rage.’ Pretty much, the whole experience has had a profound impact on me. It’s unspeakable at times.  I’m being patient as God reveals its impact to me a little bit at a time.”

Q: Would you recommend others take this journey?

S. Francis Clare - “I would definitely recommend this journey and share that everyone makes their own Camino pilgrimage. Everyone needs to take time to “recharge their batteries.”  To get a fresh perspective on self, life, learn what other people, races, countries do.  How do they live, what’s important to them? It is so broadening and can give a whole different perspective.”

S. Mary Susanna - “If the opportunity is there, seize it!  If you enjoy walking, journeying, traveling, surprises, people and God’s invitation to live life fully, go! Don’t hold back. Make your plans today! I don’t regret any part of the experience.  It’s by far not an easy journey. But what journey is. The Camino has its challenges, but the exhilaration far outweighs the day to day hurdles. You will return a changed person.  Believe it!”


collage from Camino journey