Camino de la Unidad takes Root
July 28, 2023 • Diocese of St. Augustine

By Jessica Larson

Stamp for the local Camino de la Unidad. The stamp will serve as an official record in the pilgrim passport.
Photo Credit: Brandon Forschino

On Tuesday, July 25, the feast day of St. James (Santiago), the paths of many monumental projects coincided to form a common goal at the opening ceremony of the Camino de la Unidad. The evening began with a procession of the St. James statue from the Castillo de San Marcos to the Cathedral Basilica in downtown St. Augustine. The statue served as a visible connection to the one found at Santiago Cathedral’s entrance in Spain. The statue, sculpted by Juan Vega, returned with the 2022 delegation and will permanently reside in the west courtyard of the Cathedral Basilica.

St. James was recorded as one of the three closest apostles to Jesus. Known for his evangelical zeal, St. James became the Apostle of Spain because of his missionary work in 40 A.D. After returning to Jerusalem, he was martyred in 44 A.D. His remains were returned to Spain and now lie within the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of the Camino de Santiago, Spain’s hiking pilgrimage.

The sculpture represents the Apostle Santiago, inviting pilgrims and visitors to embark on a spiritual journey and embrace the Camino de Santiago’s values and teachings. Its presence in St. Augustine is a powerful symbol of unity and continuity between cultures and continents, bridging the spiritual connection between the Camino in Spain and its expansion in America. Today, pilgrims travel from around the world to walk or bike the infamous trails in Spain and there are hopes for pilgrims to travel to St. Augustine to do the same.

Procession of the St. James statue from the Castillo de San Marcos to the Cathedral Basilica in downtown St. Augustine.
Photo Credit: Jessica Larson

During the Tuesday night celebration of the Mass, Deacon Mike Elison shared that people walk the Camino de Santiago for many different reasons. They may be “grieving the loss of a loved one and are walking in their memory.  Travelers “may be at a crossroads in their life and are discerning what God wants them to do next.” Some, he said, “only walk for the adventure and for living in the joy of the moment, to meet new people.” Others, “simply to be alone with God.” No matter the reason, it becomes a turning point in one’s life. “We are called to step out of our comfort zones,” he said.

In 2022 a delegation comprised of citizens representing the academic, cultural, historical, government and religious sectors of St. Augustine traveled to Spain to solidify their membership in the Alliance of Cathedrals and St. Augustine’s connection to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Dr. Timothy Johnson, part of last year’s delegation and planning team, was “glad to see the project come full circle.” He shared that he appreciated Deacon Mike’s homily where he provided ten life lessons we may draw from the Camino experience. Johnson resonated most with the idea to “Pack light and throw stuff out.” Deacon Mike recounted that this applies to our lives too. “All too often we are carrying all this psychological and spiritual baggage with us.  The Camino is a time to let all of that go – to get rid of it.  Old hurts, old grudges, old wounds, old guilt, old brokenness.  It’s time to cast it aside.”

Father John Tetlow, pastor and rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, signed the proclamation to officially join the Alliance of Cathedrals during the Mass. The alliance is committed to promoting faith, research, knowledge exchange and cooperation in areas such as theology, sociology, heritage conservation, cultural and religious tourism promotion and the organization of joint events and activities.

By joining the Alliance of Cathedrals, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine has become the anchor for the new Camino de la Unidad, a network of pilgrimage routes in the Americas – a way for those here in America to experience the graces found during pilgrimages.

Father John Tetlow displayed the new stamp for the local Camino de la Unidad. The stamp will serve as an official record of a pilgrim Certificate of Distance. This is a document issued by the Chapter of the Cathedral of Santiago certifying the number of kilometers pilgrims have traveled, whatever the starting point of their pilgrimage. To be eligible, pilgrims must walk at least 100 km on foot.