University chaplaincies across Canada have finished celebrating Catholic Students’ Week, which at UTM featured a talk by Edward Curtis, a priest and pontifical master of ceremonies for Cardinal Thomas Collins, on walking the Camino de Santiago last summer.
The Camino, a pilgrimage route dated to the 9th century, is a popular trail across northern Spain that ends at the traditional burial place of the Biblical disciple James. The Camino has lately received increasing attention from both religious and secular walkers, including at least five drama and documentary films in the last decade.
Courtney Strom, the president of the Catholic Students’ Club, introduced Curtis, who was born in Toronto, ordained in 2008, and made an assistant pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Streetsville before being appointed pontifical master of ceremonies and studying canon law in Rome.
One of the route’s first purposes, said Curtis, was as a penance. “From a psychological point of view, this idea of a penance for something that you did wrong was to help you shed that part of yourself that is causing you to do wrong,” he said. “It was an opportunity to take the focus off of yourself, to take the focus off of your own ego.”
Curtis spoke about the importance of the pilgrimage as more than a “hike” but rather an intentional act of spiritual development and “encountering God in a different way”.
“A lot of the paths are quite narrow, so it forces you to walk alone,” he said. “It gives you that time for self-reflection.”
Being a priest, Curtis carried a mass kit with him to celebrate on the road. He told an anecdote about a couple who had been on the verge of separating but had decided to walk the Camino together in the hopes of revivifying their marriage. They met Curtis on the road on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary, and they asked to join the mass and renew their vows.
He talked about the hospitality along the route, where €8 would buy a night at a hostel and €10 a full meal and a bottle of wine. “The whole place was set up to cater to your needs,” he joked.
But the walking itself was hard. Pilgrims need to do their laundry every night after walking an average of 20 km. Curtis dropped some of the baggage he had brought with him. “I had a backpack, and when I first set out, it weighed about 35 pounds,” he said. “After the first day I went through my bag meticulously and started throwing stuff out.”
He summarized the experience as a “metaphor for life”, which is a difficult journey made worthwhile “if it leads towards a goal”.
After the event, refreshments were served and a CSC executive thanked the pilgrim. “It’s very important that we learn to take time, even five minutes out of our busy schedule, and reflect on our life—how we get closer to God,” she said.
The week’s other events included mass, an “Art of Faith” event involving sketching and refreshments to de-stress, and on-campus office hours with a priest.
“During this busy time of year with a heavy load of deadlines and midterms, UTM CSC strives to serve the UTM community by giving the opportunities for the students and staff to be nourished spiritually and with God’s grace,” said Strom of the week.
The UTM Catholic Students’ Club is part of the Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry, with members from over 75 campuses across the country.