Father Scott Connolly, the pastor at Assumption Catholic Church, had never walked 15 miles in one day, much less anything remotely approaching 500 miles over 40 days.
That's how he spent much of his summer while on a three-month sabbatical, fulfilling a dream to participate in Spain's Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, known as the Camino de Santiago (Santiago is named for St. James the Great in Spanish).
Father Scott, as he is known at Assumption, hails from Spokane. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he earned his master's of divinity from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif. He has served the church for five years, with 17 years in the priesthood.
Question: Did the recent movie "The Way" (about the Camino de Santiago) help you decide?
Answer: No, that was a coincidence. I already had wanted to make the pilgrimage to the site where St. James is buried. The movie just helped reconfirm my decision.
Q: Do you speak Spanish?
A: Yes. That's how I wound up being assigned to Assumption; I'm bilingual.
Q: Is there more than one route for the pilgrimage?
A: Yes, there are several routes. About 200,000 people each year from all over the world make this pilgrimage. My route was the Camino Frances, which starts in the Pyrenees Mountains at St. Jean Pied de Port. It's designed to last 32 days, but I wanted to take Sundays off. Forty days has special biblical significance, so that's the reason I chose a pilgrimage of 40 days.
Q: Was anyone here skeptical about your ability to complete the journey?
A: No, the people here were really excited for me. People just wanted what was best for me.
Q: Do you have any background as a runner or walker?
A: No, but I felt I could make the pilgrimage. I felt like my only job in an eight-hour day was to walk about 15 miles. The walk was mostly flat, although the highest points reached a mile. I walked through many small villages, and I would attend a special pilgrimage Mass at the end of each day.
Q: How many Americans did you see?
A: There were some, although most of the people who make the pilgrimage are Europeans. About 5 percent are Americans.
Q: When you finished at Santiago, what were your feelings?
A: It was a reaffirmation of my vocation as a priest. I really felt I returned to the underlying core of what I do as a Catholic and why I wanted to serve the church. There was a sense of joy and relief that is almost indescribable, that a person can do something like this. It's a very physical journey, but it's also extremely internal. It's 500 miles, but the biggest journey is from your head to your heart. Or maybe from your feet to your heart!
Q: What was meaningful about meeting others making the pilgrimage?
A: You meet people from all over the world who are on their own spiritual journeys, people whose paths happen to coincide with yours. It's amazing to be able to share your life and listen to them share theirs.
Q: Did you feel pressure to finish your pilgrimage?
A: I told myself I would take the pilgrimage one day at a time, so I didn't put pressure on myself. Sometimes I would get hot, tired and frustrated, but I could finish each day. But a shower, a siesta, a good dinner and a good night's sleep had me ready for each new day.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.