The Caminos de Santiago – An Ecumenical Opportunity

Since my first journey in that winter of the Holy Year 1999, fellow pilgrims have kept asking me: “But if you’re not Catholic, why do you make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela?”

And for more then 20 years my answer has always been the same: “Because Santiago was not a Catholic either, he was a follower of Jesus Christ, simply a Christian.”

The Apostle Saint James, the friend of the Lord, lived before the sad separation of the churches, at a time when

“All the believers lived together and had everything in common;”

Acts 2:44

That sounds like the experience we have had as pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. And that is why I believe that the Camino de Santiago is an opportunity par excellence for ecumenism.

On the Camino we can have conversations about our faith that we rarely have in our daily lives. Conversations about our different experiences and practices but more than anything else about what we have in common: The difficulties of living our faith in an increasingly secular world. The miracles of every day. Our trust in God.

The simple practices of living each day with Jesus and how we do that on a very practical and personal level.

But with this joy of sharing always comes a deep mourning that we cannot share the sacrament that all Christians have in common – the Eucharist.

I know, there are good reasons for this, but it hurts, it hurts a lot when I am in the cathedral and, just before the distribution of the body of Christ I hear those words: “That only Catholics can come to receive.”

I have a dream – That one day we can all participate in Holy Communion in the cathedral and in all the churches of the world, no matter what church we come from, because it is the Lord who invites us and who knows our hearts. And He makes us worthy to receive Himself.

I have a dream – To hear those words “All Christians are welcome at the Lord’s table!”

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. …

The first Christians were known as the ‘followers of the way’ as Saint Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles and the word pilgrim comes from the Latin ‘peregrinus’ which means he or she who crosses foreign lands as a free citizen – another thing we have in common.

We are all pilgrims to the eternal homeland – the heavenly Jerusalem, the new world where there is no mourning, no tears, only eternal joy in the presence of God!

At the end of his days on this earth Jesus prayed:

“… So that they may all be one. Like you, Father, in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ”

John 17:21

How can we tell non-believers that following Jesus is the best Way if we don’t walk together? For more than 20 years, each of my pilgrimages was dedicated to that: The unity of all Christians. Each step of my pilgrim feet was a prayer for that …

After this year that we have lived through, full of losses of loved ones and dreams, my prayer is:

Lord, help us each day to grow closer to you and to each other, do not allow the division between the churches to deepen, but help us to grow each day closer to our brothers and sisters, so that one day we can all participate all in the same Eucharist that nourishes us all.

11 thoughts on “The Caminos de Santiago – An Ecumenical Opportunity”

  1. I am not Catholic and have taken communion at the Cathedral twice. I believe the “rules” that prevent Christians from dining at the Lord’s Table were made by man. My participation is based on my relationship with God – not on any one church doctrine. For reference, I am Lutheran/Episcopalian – we already share the Eucharist.

  2. Hi Sybille, thank you for your wonderful ecumenical vision. It would indeed wonderful if the Eucharist could be used as a means to reconciliation and ecumenism rather than as a symbol of its achievement. I’ve worked in the ecumenical and interfaith space for many years now as a Catholic and the obstacles to unity seem numerous – even within my own church. I loved your comments about the way that some of the early followers of Jesus referred to themselves as “people of the way”. It’s a beautiful camino (way) image and evokes our pilgrimage through life. I was a little troubled, though by your addition of the title Christian to James (Yaakov as Jehoshua/Jesus would have called him) after you rightly described him as a follower of Jesus [the] Christ. I believe that the Twelve, Mary Magdalene and Paul would have all thought of themselves as Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah – or even more simply a fellow Jew who lived God’s Torah (Teaching) in a remarkable way that made him want to follow this way. It was certainly a remarkable time in which Christianity in so many forms emerged from this Jewish and later Pagan milieu. This in itself brought new complications, such as how Jewish and Gentile people of the way could, amongst other things, share table together. It seems Paul spent a lot of time working out how this might indeed become a reality. Thank you for your contribution to the journey towards a truly inclusive Christian community.

  3. I’ve always taken communion in whatever church I was in. I never encountered any problems with that. It is my right as a Christian to receive communion from whoever’s hand.

    1. Actually no, it isn’t. Different churches, different rules who can receive communion and who can’t.


      1. Ah… So… some religions are better than others? More ‘Christian’ and ‘Holy’? I’ve suffered more insults from catholics than any other religious group, and catholiscism is justly regarded as a ‘cult’ by many. Its not religion thats the problem, its the people who for almost two thousand years have set out to control it and people through it, and wealth and political power. I take communion when ever I can, where ever, as I commune with Jesus and not a religious group or human-made doctine.

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