Walking with the world: Tasmanian pilgrimage travels the globe

By Veronika Cox

In Hobart, Andrew and Rachel Guillaume left their hotel and made tracks for Knocklofty summit.

Almost 18,000 km away, Anne Fitzgerald pulled on her hiking boots and set off through County Tyrone, in the north of Ireland.

All around the world, similar scenes were playing out as almost 1500 people united to walk the Way to St James Cygnet Global Camino over the weekend of 15-16 January.

They walked in sunshine, clouds, snow and rain. They braved sub-zero temperatures and extreme heat. They walked in forests, on mountains, through cities and suburbs, by rivers and highways.

Andrew and Rachel Guillaume 374 m above sea level at Knocklofty Summit, Hobart. Photo: Supplied

“I think, frankly, we have tapped into a real need around the world,” Fr Michael Tate said.

“The fact is that this pandemic is not a fleeting phenomenon. It is now part of our world experience and that is why it needs a worldwide response. What this event shows is the resilience of human beings. It is born out of adversity. Instead of throwing our hands up in despair, something creative has emerged.”

The traditional two-day pilgrimage, inspired by the famous Spanish El Camino of St James, winds its way through the scenic and peaceful Huon Valley to a celebration at the Spanish mission styled Church of St James, nestled in the heart of Cygnet.

When it was cancelled due to COVID restrictions in 2020, the organising committee decided something had to be done to maintain the spirit of the event.

“We came up with the idea of a virtual camino – a way to walk with us wherever you live,” Way to St James Cygnet committee member Leanne Prichard explained.

This year, it was discovered by the world.

“The response has been nothing short of amazing,” Fr Tate said.

“Our pilgrimage is for any person of any faith – or indeed none at all – open to a meditative walk through natural surroundings, so as to join in a common endeavour around the world to restore body, mind and spirit in these anxiety-ridden times.”

Andrew and Rachel, who walked a 2200km camino from Switzerland to Santaigo in 2018, said the pilgrimage gave them the chance to stay connected to the camino experience.

“We did our first Way to St James Cygnet in 2020 and it was fabulous – the spirit, the comradery and the spirituality,” Mr Guillaume explained.

“This year it was really different and quite amazing. People around the world found out about this global camino and decided to join because there was this need for connection. We have had COVID lockdowns and borders shut, and that has made people want to participate walking where they live.”

Mr Guillaume said the time zones around the world added a wonderful element to the experience, with the official Facebook event facilitating a strong and interactive community. 

“We were back at our apartment resting after the first day, and there were posts coming in from all over the world,” he said.

“It was really fantastic. Being able to share our little experience and then read about what other people did – someone walking in minus 20 degrees! – meant there was a lot of connection between various people walking in the spirit of camino.”

For Anne, walking in Ireland, the global camino was a ray of hope when international travel ceased, and she could no longer travel to Lourdes.

“Faith is integral to my identity and pilgrimage is part and parcel of that faith,” she said.

“These pilgrimages are explicitly external but more important is that they are an internal journey to the soul.”

Ms Fitzgerald said the “land down under” held a certain allure.

“Your landscape is familiar yet also alien. Your accents, language and humour are different yet distinctly similar. Our nations’ history is inextricably linked,” she explained.

“I have twice visited your beautiful and welcoming country and so I feel it was somewhat inevitable that I would join a group, based nearly 18,000km from where I now sit!”

Ms Fitzgerald said the camino is a metaphor for life.

“Our walk through life requires commitment, dedication, persistence and sacrifice and a strength to accept that suffering and joy will both be part of life,” she said.

“Walking allows for introspection. I thought of others and prayed for others. I thought of others doing the same because they too had just clicked a button and I realised then how our lives are always touching the lives of others.”

Ms Prichard, who orchestrated the Facebook event for the Way to St James committee, said while not everyone did the trek for spiritual reasons, there was a deep sense of connection.

“The camino gives you lessons for everyday life and you learn to accept, with love and respect, that everyone has their own path,” she said.

“If everyone treated each other like they do on the camino, we wouldn’t have any problems in the world.”

And that, she says, is the essence of the pilgrimage.

“It is a unifying thing in this global pandemic. There is this affiliation and connection with all other pilgrims. You become a family.”

Read testimonies from participants in the Way to St James Cygnet Global Pilgrimage:

ROBERT BART AND SIMON LOVELL BART

Brossard, Quebec, Canada

“I am an avid walker. I’ve been walking around 250km per month in the area I live in. I’ve walked the Camino De Santiago five times and will be leaving on 2 February to finish my via de la Plata Camino that I had to pause when COVID hit.

I saw the Way to St James Cygnet and I was intrigued.

I thought it would be fun to walk in solidarity with pilgrims in Australia and, as it turns out, around the world. The highlight was walking with my son in solidarity with others. It was also fun to do it in minus 20 degrees.

I feel that I’ve made a connection with so many others around the world just by participating. I really look forward to it next year and I hope one day to make my way to Tasmania and walk it in person.”

Robert Bart and son Simon Lovell Bart trek through snow in minus 20 degrees. Photo: Supplied

HELEN MARKWOOD

Vilajoyosa, Spain

“My home in Spain is in a village close to the city of Vilajoyosa on the East Coast.

I was thrilled to become part of the Way to St James Cygnet Global Camino 2022.

I love the connection with other pilgrims from all around the world.

I have the good fortune of a Camino de Santiago starting out from my local city and I chose to take the coastal route and then turn inland for the long journey right across Spain to Santiago. The route is called La Lana (the wool route).

The 14km walk leaves the very pretty seaside and fishing town of Vilajoyosa and connects to the huge vacation metropolis of Benidorm via the coast.

I have walked this way many times, but today felt rather special. It was that warm feeling of being part of a huge community all over the world.

I give my thanks to the organisers of our global endeavour, and I hope and pray to be with you again next year.”

Helen reaches her destination – the church of Saint James and Saint Anna, Benidorm. Photo: Supplied

ALEX LAFON

Greece

“I started in France and followed the Jerusalem Way, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and now Greece. I have walked approximately 3000 kilometres!

It was a wonderful walk along the Jerusalem Way in Greece (for the Way to St James Global Pilgrimage). 30 kilometres of sea, sun and beautiful people.”

Alex Lafon holds up his scallop shell – the symbol of the pilgrim. Photo: Supplied

ILDIKO NAGY

Windhoek, Namibia

“My highlight was walking through a game reserve; experiencing wild animals undisturbed, experiencing God’s canvas and the beauty of His creation.

I have gained a new hope for the year to come – embracing the spirit of the importance of now during COVID. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I have a new refreshed respect for life and motivation and determination to complete this planned first time Camino.”

Ildiko made her pilgrimage through the Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve in Namibia. Photo: Supplied

MARIJA TRESIC

Croatia

“Last year, my husband and I walked the Camino in France. So, we were still in the mood! We joined the pilgrimage when we saw it on Facebook. First, we planned to do it alone, but in the end we organised a big group.

We walked on Hvar Island, with around 40 people. We started with a blessing from our priest and we finished at the Church of St James. It was a beautiful experience. I talked with some people in the town where I live that I have never spoken to before. People welcomed us to their houses as we passed, and asked if we needed water or anything. The young people in our destination village cooked dinner for us when we arrived. This is the real camino spirit!”

Marija Tresic walked her camino on Hvar Island in Croatia. Photo: Supplied
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