"The Camino de Santiago allows you to know yourself more, to live with the minimum and to create a world community." These words are from Lea Pennock, the new president of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, one of the reference points of the Camino de Santiago in Canada. In 2019, the Canadian Company of Pilgrims celebrates 25 years of history with over 3,000 Camino de Santiago lovers as partners and focused on fostering the union between the different groups that are part of it, advising pilgrims to discover the different routes of the Camino de Santiago and encouraging them to explore them for the first time as well as accompanying those who return year after year to live the experience.
While she was in Spain, Lea came to Santiago de Compostela to meet the team of El Camino con Correos, as well as the services that we offer pilgrims. During this encounter Lea proved that she was a veteran on the Camino de Santiago. After walking the French Camino, she and her husband Dan embarked on the adventure of walking the Camino Via de la Plata, which fascinated her with it’s landscapes and tranquility. After that came the French Camino from Le Puy and a stretch of the Northern Way.
Before they headed back to their native Saskatoon, they’re both thinking of returning to Spain and touring the Camí de Sant Jaume from Montserrat and the Camino Mozárabe from Almería to Mérida. An enthusiasm that they take to Canada, where in just three months they will hold the annual meeting of the association.
The Canadian Company of Pilgrims turns 25 this 2019. How and with what purpose did this pilgrim association start?
The Canadian Company of Pilgrims started in Toronto, founded by two people that, after walking the Camino de Santiago, decided to share their experience and encourage others to live it. In its origins, they held a monthly meeting that, little by little, increased their interest on the Camino.
It got to a point where people from all over the country were very interested and wanted to meet. Do, even though the association was born in Toronto, it soon began to open up to people from all over Canada. Today there are over 3,000 members from different cities organized in small groups that work in networks and share their stories and experiences on the Camino. In addition to the meetings, the different chapters give support and information to pilgrims who are going to start their Camino de Santiago for the first time or that are interested on the experience.
The ultimate goal is to share stories, but also information and resources. We also have a website where people get to know us and connect with others to walk the Camino.
What are Canadian pilgrims attracted to the most of the Camino de Santiago?
It’s a unique experience. For many people it’s a spiritual experience but for others it’s an opportunity to go to a new country or to live for a few days in a different, calmer way, with oneself. In general, when people return to Canada they are left with a couple of things from this experience on the Camino: what they reflect on when walking and the community created on the Camino.
What surprises them the most when they come to the Camino?
The ability to live with hardly anything. Most Canadian pilgrims return home surprised because they spend 30 or 40 days living with just what fits in their backpack, with a couple of things. And they think to themselves: ok, I don't need too much to live. I think that’s what surprises them the most: the simplicity with which one lives. There are other things, of course, such as meeting people from different countries, from different cultures and with different interests.
When they go to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, what are their main concerns? What questions or issues are more common when organizing the Camino de Santiago?
Most questions have to do with language. They worry if they will be able to communicate without knowing Spanish. Keep in mind that many people from Canada who come to Spain to do the Camino are leaving their country for the first time. They’ve never gotten on a plane before. They’ve never crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They’ve never been in Europe. They don’t know what they will find.
And, on the other hand, they have many questions about logistics: where to travel, where are you going to stay along the Camino... And they discover that there are many Routes of the Camino de Santiago, not a unique itinerary, so they also have many doubt on which one to follow.
We know that the Camino de Santiago is a universal phenomenon that reaches every last part of the world. But, how was the Camino discovered in Canada? What makes it so popular there?
I think the success of the Camino de Santiago was due to word of mouth. They listen to a friend about how their experience was and they want to try it. They think: “Maybe I should go and try it”. We hold small meetings in our city, Saskatoon, where we share our Camino experiences. In the last one, over 100 people came to hear the stories of the Camino. We are talking about a small city, so success is resounding. In each of the cities in which the Canadian Company of Pilgrims is present, we have these types of meetings and people go to look for information. Every year we celebrate the ‘Welcome back home’, a meeting in which the pilgrims who have traveled the Camino de Santiago that year tell their experience. A lot of people come to these meetings excited to hear about their journey.
What are the main activities held in the association?
We organize walks, the Saint James walks, in each location and also the day of Santiago. We also carry out the ‘blessing pilgrims’, a ceremony in spring and another one in the fall where we say goodbye to our fellow pilgrims and wish them ¡Buen Camino! And in December, the ‘Welcome back home’, to greet all the pilgrims of that year and we invite them to share with us their Camino de Santiago.
Also, each chapter that makes up the association hold small weekly or monthly meetings. For example, we at Saskatoon hold meetings every first Tuesday of the month. And we get together, we talk, we eat and laugh. All around the Camino de Santiago.
Of all the challenges you face as the new president of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, what has been your greatest accomplishment?
I would like to help the different chapters to get them to work more together. And, at the same time, collaborate with other institutions related to the Camino de Santiago in Spain and with other associations around the world.
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