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The walk of a lifetime

Ava Barrett  |  03 November 2020

Miesje Blumer first considered a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago half a century ago, after a suggestion from her parish priest. But it wasn’t until she was 70 years old that she decided to finally embark on the journey – travelling the distance on her own. One of our young writers speaks to her about her experience.

Each year more than 300,000 people walk the Camino de Santiago – thousands of kilometres of interconnected pathways leading to the burial site of Saint James the Apostle.

Established in the Middle Ages, many go on this expedition for its intended purpose, as a pilgrimage to reconnect with their faith. Others view it as a ‘bucket list’ item, a personal challenge to rediscover themselves.

Miejse Blumer is a Learning Support Assistant and Aboriginal Contact Worker at St Patrick’s Parish School in Cooma. She says she’s wanted to walk the Camino Santiago for more than 50 years.

The seed for Miesje’s remarkable expedition was sown when parish priest recommended that she consider the Camino de Santiago during a ‘crossroad’ in her 20s, when her mother became seriously unwell. However, her mother’s health worsened and Miejse’s dream never eventuated.

OPPORTUNITY

It wasn’t until she was 70 years young, after her daughter was married in Portugal, that Miesje grabbed the opportunity to live out decades of contemplation.

Originally, Miesje had planned to walk the pilgrimage with a family member or friend. However, when the chance revealed itself, she walked the 130km track by herself. ‘I really missed sharing the special moments with others’, she admits.

Despite the feelings of loneliness she experienced intermittently during her journey, she says that her connection with God gave her a sense of being accompanied on the road.

‘I tend to believe very strongly, and always have, that God is with me; whatever happens, it will work out in the end’, she says. ‘I knew that I was never alone.’

The pilgrimage required trust from Meisje; reliance on the presence of God when she felt alone, and the strength of faith when enduring the testing elements.

Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, wrote ‘If you only walk on sunny days you’ll never reach your destination’. On the first day, after the first eight kilometres of Miesje’s journey, Coelho’s quote rang true. The heavens opened and Miesje became drenched, with another eight kilometres still to walk in soaking wet shoes and soggy clothes. Self-doubt came creeping in.

FAITH

Since she had nowhere else to go, she had to keep going putting one foot in front of the other. ‘It was my faith which got me to the end.’ 

Miesje finally sought refuge in a small café. There she rested and had some refreshments. Then she put on her damp rain coat, and began bracing herself to continue her hike. She set off determined to trudge on. After walking about 200m she came to an inn on the side of the road, the Maguardi. The name seemed familiar. Exhausted, she tried thinking where she had heard it before. In a moment of joy, she realised that it was her first night’s accommodation!

It was then Miesje knew she could finish what she started.

Most people on their journey would get up early to start each day. However, in Spain at that time of year, the sun doesn’t rise until 8:15. Walking on your own in the dark, on a path you have never trod, can be an uncomfortable and some might say an unsafe experience.

‘The majority of the paths were well sign posted, though not all twists and turns were clearly marked’, says Miesje.

PILGRIMAGE

Miesje would start her days at 8:30 when it was light. The next few days were tough for her, but a chance meeting with an Australian couple from the area that she grew up in, reminded Miesje why she began this pilgrimage.

The last day consisted of a brisk 10km walk. Every day 1000 to 1200 people would arrive in Santiago, completing their journey. Using their passports of stamps collected along the way from places of accommodation, participants needed to wait their turn to have their passport validated before given their certificates. Mass would be celebrated at the Cathedral each day, celebrating completed journeys. Many people had family or friends who celebrated with them at the end of their tremendous journey.

Since Miesje walked by herself, it was the friends Miesje made along her walk who cheered when she received her certificate.

Miesje’s incredible journey can’t be just measured in kilometres or counted by steps. Her experience was one that begun 50 years ago after she was informed of the importance of discovering herself, and is one that she is still understanding today. As time progresses, many people put off experiences when life gets in the way.

AMAZING

‘I would say to others, do it while you’re younger. Just go for it! It is such an amazing thing for someone to do. I think whether it’s faith that draws you to a pilgrimage, or you are just at a crossroads in your life, whether you know that you want to be closer to God to give you strength or for whatever reasons, I think it is well and truly something beautiful to cherish.’

 > Ava Barrett is a student at St Patrick’s School in Cooma, and took part in the 2020 Australian Catholics internship program.

 

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