Modern pilgrims Tina Henle and Tanja McPherson shared the story of their spiritual journey through France and Spain – a trek known as The Way of St. James – Saturday to around 50 people at St. Croix Reformed Church.
The talk preceded the showing of the movie “The Way,” part of the Interfaith Multi-Cultural Film Series hosted by the Interfaith Coalition.
McPherson, an interfaith minister, said the pilgrimage is a centuries-old Catholic tradition. The belief is that the Apostle James’ remains are buried in Santiago de Compostela on the coast of northwestern Spain.
“The whole thing was beautiful,” McPherson said with a huge smile. “There was such a spiritual feel for it. It’s like St. James calls you.”
McPherson said she learned about the pilgrimage from a friend around 11 years ago and put it on a list of goals she had in life – a list that included getting married, buying a house on St. Croix and doing the walk.
McPherson, 46-years-old, said she did the walk as a tribute to her mother, who died at the age of 46.
McPherson knew Henle was going on a trip to Europe, so she asked her to travel along with her.
“It was like St. James came down himself and told me to go on the pilgrimage,” Henle said. “I had a deep feeling I had to go.”
Henle, a well-known local photographer, said she read Shirley MacLaine’s book “Camino: Journey of the Spirit,” about 25 years ago and thought it was amazing. She said making the pilgrimage with McPherson was a perfect fit for where she was in her life dealing, with the loss of her mother and sister. She wanted to personally move on to a new phase, she said.
They started the 500 mile journey last October in St. Jean-Pied de Port, France. They took that particular route because it had the most infrastructure, was the most populated with towns, and well traveled.
The women said they found everything about the trek "amazing." The gorgeous scenery, with multiple photo opportunities, actually slowed them down a bit. They said the food along the way was great, as was the coffee. The accommodations were varied, with hostels, bed and breakfasts and hotels along the route.
The "way," or "comino" in Spanish, was well marked and safe. And they added they had a very good time walking together or alone and in groups with folks of all ages from all over the world.
”We laughed a lot and met characters and people from all over the world.” Henle said with a smile. “We ended up seeing amazing villages and meeting very nice people who were welcoming. There was so much richness I felt over stimulated.”
After walking about 100 miles they realized they couldn’t do the whole route on foot in the month they had allotted for it. They said six weeks would have been perfect. They also ended up with the flu, which slowed them down, and McPherson got horrible blisters, even with broken-in boots. And then she had an allergic reaction to treatments she was using on her feet. And their packs were starting to feel heavy.
“We were given the gift of lesson,” McPherson said. “We let go of what things look like and let go of internal judgment. We learned there’s no right way, even when we didn’t get to do the trip the way we planned. It’s about the journey and the insights all the way.”
She said they learned to listen to their bodies and let go of the vision.
“We realized everything isn’t perfect,” Henle said.
They hopped on a bus for a while, but finished up walking to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Folks can get a special Pilgrim’s passport stamped going through towns along the way.
McPherson said the most memorable part of the walk was a foggy, gray day when she made it to the Cruz de Terro, a site that was off was off the beaten path. It was on a tricky path up a mountain, where people ceremoniously leave stones at the foot of the cross. “I laid down a piece of coral and laid down my grief and sadness I carried around for 23 years,” McPherson said.
Henle said arriving at the end was something she will never forget.
“You walk into this beautiful holy city,” Henle said. “The energy there was just off the charts! It was just vibrating.”
A pilgrim’s mass is held at noon daily in the cathedral. Henle said she isn’t Catholic but she took communion and felt very welcome in such a holy place with great meaning.
The women had trained for the trip hiking, walking and swimming on St. Croix. They said they would do it again, but they would train with packs and allow more time to walk the way. The women answered questions from the audience following the film.
The “Way," starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Esteves, is a tale of an American doctor who travels to France to collect the remains of his son who was killed during a storm in the Pyrenees Mountains, while making the same pilgrimage, "The Way of St. James." Upon his arrival in France he decides to honor his son by completing the pilgrimage and experiences a spiritual reawakening of his own.
The coalition has more films planned, chosen for their universal qualities and for their power to educate, inspire and uplift people from all walks of life, according to information from the group. The Interfaith Multi-Cultural Film Series is jointly supported by a grant from the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, a federal agency.
The coalition is an organization that brings the community together through a brotherhood of faiths including Christians, Muslims, Bahais, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, and Ifa/Yoruba. More information is available by calling 1-340-778-6263 or 1-340-719-4972.