It is not my intention on this pilgrimage to write an exhaustive account at the end of each day. If you want to know what the Aussie Camino is, google it. You will find several good accounts from its creator, Luke Mills. In short, tomorrow morning, myself and about thirty others will leave Portland in Victoria where we are staying overnight and walk to Penola in South Australia, where we should arrive (Deo Volente) approximately 200kms later on Saturday night next week.
Yes, the Camino is connected with St Mary MacKillop – Portland is where St Mary’s family lived for many years and where she had her last lay teaching post. Penola, of course, is where she took the viel as a Sister of St Joseph and began the first Josephite school. But the Camino is not about St Mary, nor are we following any historical trail that St Mary herself is known to have travelled.
Also, this is not Captain Catholic’s pilgrimage. I have met many of my companions, and some of them are lapsed or non-practicing Catholics, some have a tenuous hold on their faith, and some are not Catholic at all. Anyone who knows about the Spanish Camino knows that there is no requirement that participants be Catholic. In fact, it is almost as popular with non-Catholics as with Catholics.
That said, we (at least some of us) have been to Mass twice today. We started with Mass in the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre this morning at 10:30am where Fr Kalka blessed our scallop shells and sent us on our way. Then we arrived in Portland in time for the Vigil Mass at All Saints Church (next door to Bayview College where the Lorreto Sisters have their school on the site of the old MacKillop cottage).
Still, a topic of conversation over dinner later in the evening at Mac’s Hotel was “Why are you doing the Camino?” The answers were many and various – and honestly, like myself, there were many who did not know why they were taking this on, but simply were drawn to it. One lady I was talking too said: “I just realised that many are intending to walk on their own – I thought we would all be walking together”. I responded that for some of us, it is especially the isolation that we are looking forward to. “You don’t expect to find God out there do you?” Well, maybe. I am rather hoping he will find me. I then told her that during my training for this event (which began only 5 weeks and about 460kms of walking ago) there were points when I found I was really entering a bit of a “dark place”. “Don’t tell me that – that’s not why I came.”
This is a new venture – it is only the second time anyone has walked it (Luke and his small band of companions did it first last Easter). But already the idea has proved enormously popular. There are a few kinks in the route. At the moment, you couldn’t do the whole thing without either a backup vehicle or a very large fully accomodated overnight camping backpack. But I am sure that with time the idea will catch on. Maybe our passports (yes, we have real “Camino-style” passports with stamps!) will become historical items!
I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if I will even make it all the way. I have a bit of a cold, and a very bad neck. But I need to do this.
My spiritual director told me the other day when I went to be shriven before leaving “You know, historically there have always been two acceptable ways for men to avoid their reponsibilities? Going to war and going on pilgrimage. The Crusades achieved both.”
Well, I will content myself with my scallop shell rather than taking the cross. My responsibilities are where I left them. Tomorrow morning I am literally walking away from them. I don’t know what I am walking towards…