St. James parishioners build community, deepen faith during cathedral’s Camino

  • Written by Megan Carroll
  • Published in Local
Parishioners approach after Mass July 23 to venerate a reliquary bust of St. James, thought to date from the 15th century. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral Parishioners approach after Mass July 23 to venerate a reliquary bust of St. James, thought to date from the 15th century. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

SEATTLE – After trekking along the 500-mile Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) through France and Spain several times, Martha Crites has developed a deep love for the journey to the Tomb of St. James.

St. James puppet
The St. James puppet made an appearance at St. James Cathedral after Mass on the July 23 feast of St. James. The puppet is based on medieval images used in processions in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where St. James’ relics are venerated. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

So she was thrilled when her parish, St. James Cathedral, began what it calls Camino Seattle — a five-week walking and prayer event — in 2012. In the spirit of Spanish Camino culture, Crites joined the local planning effort and often leads walks as a way of bringing the transformative experience to her fellow parishioners.

Though the two Caminos are more than 5,000 miles apart and cover vastly different distances, Crites said they share at least one trait: unpredictability.

“Even if you have intentions going into both walks, you never know what you’re going to get,” she said. “It’s a matter of showing up and being available to receive whatever it is to be had.”

From June 18 to July 23 this year, St. James hosted more than 20 Seattle walks that ranged from 2–8 miles each, drawing a total of 200 participants. The Camino Seattle pilgrims set their own walking goals, depending on time and physical ability. After participating in a walk, pilgrims receive a stamp on their printed “passport.”

“You decide how well you’re doing. No one is going to evaluate you,” said Maria Laughlin, the cathedral’s liturgy director.

Some walks focused on themes, such as Catholic history. On the rosary walk pilgrims prayed a decade of the rosary at five Catholic landmarks around the city. Every walk began with a 12th-century public pilgrim prayer, and pilgrims were encouraged to carry their prayer intentions as they walked the Camino.

St. James picnic
Parishioners enjoyed St. James Cathedral’s annual parish picnic on the July 23 feast of St. James, “a great way to end the Camino,” said Maria Laughlin, the parish’s liturgy director. Photo: Courtesy St. James Cathedral

Crites said this sustained focus on prayer is similar to Lent or Advent. And she noted that the church incorporates the body in prayer through actions like sitting and kneeling. The Camino strengthens the connection between physicality and spirituality, she said: “When you add walking to that, the prayer becomes even more intentional.”

Besides deepening the faith of individual pilgrims, the Camino walks create new friendships and a deepened sense of community in the parish, Laughlin said.

Those relationships were celebrated with a special Mass and annual parish picnic on the July 23 feast of St. James. “It feels like a great big party and it’s a great way to end the Camino,” Laughlin said.