Last month, an East Aurora man and parishioner of nearby Immaculate Conception Parish recalled his family's experience walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, in honor of apostle St. James the Great, in Spain. Known by the English name of the Way of St. James, multiple routes all lead to the shrine of the apostle at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, where his remains are believed to be.
Roger Lyons, his son Jim, daughter-in-law Marianela, granddaughters Ana and Teresa, and grandson Donovan Dvorak made the pilgrimage last August, walking 100 kilometers in the heat. Roger Lyons, who called it a "merry march through Galicia," told the Western New York Catholic he became interested in this after he and his wife, Geraldine, saw the movie "The Way," starring Martin Sheen. Sheen plays an American man who embarks on the pilgrimage in memory of his son, who died attempting it.
"We saw the movie," Lyons said. "Not only that, but a person I didn't know beforehand, he found out that we were interested. His name is Bruce Hayden. He lives in Orchard Park."
Lyons was initially unsure about making the trip since he was 83 years old and has a medical condition, but Hayden, who had made the pilgrimage seven times, talked him into going and they arranged the trip. The group initially went to Sarria and took a plane up to Compostela. The group left Buffalo on Aug. 1, did not start the pilgrimage until Aug. 3, and continued staying with friends in Spain afterward.
"It was awe-inspiring. We met people from all over the world. I don't think I could have met nicer people if I went to heaven. They were just lovely. Everybody I ran into was friendly. If they could help us in any way, they did. We stopped in one restaurant and found out I was a little older than most of the participants, and they went crazy in the restaurant when they heard my age," Lyons recalled of his experience.
According to Lyons, Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, is hilly, but not mountainous, and includes many varieties of terrain, including crossing streams and going through forests. Each night, the group stopped in a hostel, which in some cases had a room for four others, and in other cases could fit 40 people. The rooms often held men and women, with showers segregated by gender. They stopped eight times.
During the pilgrimage, they saw a variety of landmarks, including a round, Celtic fort Lyons believes had been there for several hundred years, churches and old towns. "They don't get rid of their buildings when they get old, they keep them, they just refurbish them," Lyons commented.
He reiterated that the people his group met were the best part of the trip. The family met a woman from New Jersey, whom Lyons thought was in her 60s, who was making the pilgrimage by herself with a backpack and walking sticks. They also met a young woman from Russia, another person from Poland, some people from Sweden and a group of Italians. "It was a world trip," he said, noting that never during the trip did he hear anyone complain about anything, which was inspiring to him.
"From there, we went to Barcelona, where we had friends, including a young lady who stayed with us as a student in East Aurora," Lyons said. "They got us tickets to a soccer game, which was very enjoyable, and they had a nice little house with a little pool in the backyard. This was a good way to recuperate from our walk. It is hot. I think every day it would go from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a little grueling for me."
When asked how the trip influenced his faith, Lyons, already a devout Catholic who still attends Church almost every day, said the trip brought him closer to his religion.
"Seeing all of these people doing this to improve their religious positions was wonderful to see," he said, encouraging anyone who might have an interest in making the pilgrimage to do so. He noted that while his son is a Spanish teacher and daughter-in-law is a native of Panama, people were friendly even to those who did not speak the language.
"Anybody who is capable of taking a chance on walking a good distance, and wants to improve their faith (should do it)," Lyons said. "When we ended up in Compostela, they had a Mass, and there were about 5,000 people there. There was a cardinal, the bishop from the local area, and I don't know how many priests. If you've ever watched movies where they get the incense moving back and forth, they had that. They had eight people pushing that incense higher and higher, from one end of the church to the other, on a swing. I have seen it on television, but that's the first time I've ever encountered it. It was amazing."