500-mile pilgrimage in Spain
By Robert Cloud
For the first few days, Rev. Dean Wheeler, senior pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes in Waupaca, and his wife, Rev. Lisa Stafford, were uncertain they could complete their 500-mile pilgrimage.
They were walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, through northwestern Spain, following a path that Christians have taken to visit the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela since the 10th century. Legend says St. James is buried there.
The first week was spent hiking five to seven hours a day through the rugged terrain of the Pyrenees mountains.
“It was strenuous and physically exhausting, but we were determined we were going to do it,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes 40 years ago, said he wanted to quit at first.
“If I stuck it out, I knew there would be a time when I would turn the corner and master it,” Wheeler said, noting that Stafford encouraged him to continue.
She had her own tribulations to endure the first few days. Her feet developed blisters and started hurting.
Two weeks into the pilgrimage, Stafford bought new shoes.
“I’m a size 6. I had to buy a size 8 because that’s how big my feet had swelled,” she said.
However, after the initial physical shock to their feet and bodies, Wheeler and Stafford were able to overcome the challenges of a 35-day trek. About a week into the pilgrimage, the mountains gave way to flatlands.
They walked through wilderness, past farms and villages, through slums and even into urban areas.
Hundreds of other people were walking the same route and became the couple’s traveling companions along the way.
“People from all over the world walk the Camino de Santiago,” Stafford said. “So many people share that journey that there is no place you could go to meet such a wide global swath of people.”
Wheeler noted that they got to know the people they were traveling with and became friends with some of them.
At the same time, Wheeler said the pilgrimage also provided opportunities for quiet reflection.
“I had a lot of time to spend walking alone with the Lord,” Wheeler said. “He is Emmanuel, God with us.”
Stafford said she appreciated the many churches they visited along the way.
“Stepping into the cathedrals – no matter how big or how small – was a reminder of the majesty of our Lord,” Stafford said. “There are no words to express the grandness of our God, so we do it with our buildings.”
Stafford also felt a connection to the “saints and apostles who walked the trail before us.”
Their pilgrimage ended at the Pilgrim’s Mass held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on May 19.
The mass reaches its most spectacular moment with the swinging of the Botafumeiro, a huge thurible for burning incense, accompanied by the Hymn to Santiago.
Wheeler and Stafford will discuss their pilgrimage and share some of the hundreds of photos they took at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 13, at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church, 153 County Trunk QQ, Waupaca. Wheeler said he will also speak to anyone interested in making the pilgrimage.