The Rev. Eli Klingensmith and his wife, Ruth, began their 35-day pilgrimage Aug. 28 and completed it Oct. 1.
NORTH CANTON A local pastor and his wife recently competed a journey that thousands of Christians have undertaken since the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage rooted in the earliest beginnings of Christianity.
The Rev. Eli Klingensmith, senior pastor at Zion United Church of Christ at 415 S. Main St., said the 700-mile walk along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain not only deepened his faith but bolstered his faith in humanity.
Klingensmith and his wife, Ruth, began their 35-day pilgrimage Aug. 28 and completed it Oct. 1.
"I wanted my sabbatical time to challenge me physically, mentally and spiritually," Klingensmith said.
More than 200,000 people traverse the route that pays homage to St. James, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Spain.
In preparation for the pilgrimage, the Klingensmiths walked 12 to 15 miles a day. Their route began in France, which included a portion of the Pyrenees Mountains.
"Fifteen miles up, five miles down," Ruth Klingensmth said.
"There's the inner journey and the outer journey," Rev. Klingensmith said. "It helped to increase my faith in God, not knowing what was around the bend. In light of all the mass killings and problems, for me, it renewed my faith in people. The people we met on the walk were caring and sharing, friendly and helpful. There was a commonality. We never felt fear or threatened. If you were lost, people would help you."
James the Just
Some Christians believe that James, also known as "James the Just" and "James the Greater," was a half-brother of Jesus. In Matthew 13:55 and Ephesians 1:9 in the New Testament, he is described as "James, the Lord's brother;" however not all scholars agree that the term is to be taken literally.
Ruth Klingensmith said they encountered pilgrims from around the world, noting that several women were undertaking the journey alone.
"When we were walking, people weren't saying what they did for a living, or where they were affiliated. That was very cool," she said. "You weren't identified by your occupation."
"It made us all equal," her husband added. "We were there for a common purpose."
Though neither of the Klingensmiths speaks Spanish, they said they had little trouble thanks to friendly people and a phone app that translates language. They stayed in hotels at night and ate in communal settings in villages they encountered along the way.
"The Spanish people were so accepting and appreciative," Klingensmith said. "It goes through small villages."
Klingensmith recalled one couple walking for 82 days, originating from Belgium.
"It made you appreciate the diversity of humans and individuals," he said. "It was a reminder of how good people can be."
"I felt inspired," Ruth Klingensmith added. "It confirmed the love available inside of me. One of the things I threw away was self-doubt. It was an affirmation."
She said the journey gave her a chance to slow down and appreciate nature.
"I saw the season change. It made me appreciate the simplicity of walking," she said.
Rev. Klingensmith said he marveled at the number of churches along the route.
"There were numerous small churches out in fields where you wouldn't expect a church to be," he said, noting that many parishes are sharing priests because they lack the personnel.
Ruth Klingensmith said several churches had depictions of Jesus laying in a casket on display.
"We are not sure why," she said.
They also visited the town Finisterre, which the ancient Romans believed designated the end of the world.
The couple attended a worship service in the historic cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The town, which was destroyed by Muslims in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 11th century, is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The cathedral features a statue that encases what are supposed to be the remains of St. James. The first century historian Josephus noted that James was killed in Jerusalem around the year 62.
According to legend, a ship returning James' body to Spain sank, but his corpse washed ashore. It was found covered in scalloped seashells, which has become the enduring mark for the Camino de Santiago, symbolizing the many routes that can be taken and the diversity of the pilgrims who embark on the journey.
His feast day is July 25.
"It was the trip of a lifetime," Rev. Klingensmith said. "It was a moving experience."
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