Pandemic to Pilgrimage

A triumphant pilgrim from the Camino de Santiago trip points proudly at her USD shirt


Thirty-two Toreros completed the historical Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in June, trekking 70 miles during a six-day span to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. 

“This group is now braided to one another,” reflects USD Director of International Engagement and Alumni Outreach Claudia Gonzales ’99 (BA), ’03 (MA), who planned the pilgrimage in tandem with Trafalgar Travel. “Over the course of three days, pilgrims were able to visit Alcala de Henares, El Prado, and Segovia before we made our way to our first base camp,” says Gonzales. “These excursions helped pilgrims adjust to the new time zone while keeping them active before the actual pilgrimage started.” 

The Camino de Santiago, known in English as the “Way of St. James,” is a series of routes leading to the apostle’s shrine at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where many believe his burial site is located. The trek, a first for USD, was originally the idea of President James T. Harris, EdD.

“I read about the camino and thought it would be a great way for our alumni to be involved in one of our travel programs,” says Harris. “By the end, we were all spiritually connected. It was such a powerful example of God’s presence in the world and each of us and how the Holy Spirit can bring us all together. I’ve never had that group spiritual experience. It was powerful.”

The pilgrimage was a metaphor for our journey of faith through life, with a beginning and end, said University Chaplain Father Robert Capone ’91 (BBA). “Personally, I felt a foretaste of heaven when we reached the cathedral square in Santiago — abiding joy and peace, with a sense that my heaven will be enriched by those I help on earth, those with whom I walk with along the way,” he says. 

“This was a wonderful way to feel connected to USD again,” says Kimberly Cesal ’92 (BBA), who celebrated her 27th wedding anniversary with husband David ’92 (BA) during the pilgrimage. 

“We met at USD, so it was very special to be with the Traveling Toreros on this day,” she notes. “Overall, the journey felt like the gospel reading of The Road to Emmaus. I realized very concretely that Jesus has walked with me every step of the way. He is present to each one of us in the intricacies and beauty of our lives. It was the trip of a lifetime.”Matthew Piechalak 

Photo courtesy of Daniel Mailhiot

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