The sign to follow to Santiago. / a. SAANDERS

Xacobeo 2022: a special Holy year for the Camino de Santiago

Last year was the 120th Compostela Holy year. But Pope Francis extended it to 2022 due to the pandemic, which prevented many pilgrims from making the journey to Santiago throughout 2021

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

The pandemic made many people feel empty and lost. Robert Arutiunian of Armenia living in Torremolinos decided to turn his life around by walking the Camino de Santiago, a thousand-year-old route of pilgrimage.

Walking the path of Santiago gives one (doesn't matter religious or not) an opportunity of both - to be filled spiritually and to be alone with oneself

“When I first heard about the Way, I probably didn't take it seriously at all. I have heard so many stories about the people who walked it and it seemed to me a bit like the ravings of a madman. Later I realised that everyone has their own reason for such challenge. Walking the path of Santiago gives one (doesn't matter religious or not) an opportunity of both - to be filled spiritually and to be alone with oneself. My main goal was to get to know myself. I wanted complete privacy and the Camino was perfect for that,” Robert tells SUR in English.

Englishman's experience

Robert was not particularly prepared. He thought it is better to let all new things happen to him while on the road. “At the same time, I was scared because I had never experienced something similar - travelling totally alone without good knowledge of languages and where localities looked like a desperate move. While watching a few bloggers on Instagram and Facebook, I came across a book Camino Talks With John Brierley. The guide of this experienced English author is considered one of the best, and its offshoots contain all the information needed by modern-day pilgrims,” Robert adds.

The guide of the experienced English author, John Brierley, is considered one of the best, and its offshoots contain all the information needed by modern-day pilgrims

In John Brierley's book Robert found out about the path of the fisherman Vicentin, named by Brits 'Ancient Way'. It starts in the very south of Portugal, in Cabo Vicente, the land of the Roman and Greek gods. This route doubles the usual distance. So Robert had to walk over a thousand kilometres.

Start in Algarve

In Algarve's Faro Robert received his 'pilgrim's passport', which gives access to overnight accommodation along the route and to be awarded your 'compostela' (a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way).

“El Camino really provided an excellent option for pilgrims looking for a picturesque rural experience where it felt like paradise on earth. I was filling up my inner world with the wealth of nature. However, because my route was not particularly popular there were almost no accommodation for pilgrims. Only after Lisbon did I come across pilgrim's accommodation although not typical albergues but simply the barracks of volunteer firefighters (also known as AHBV or Bombeiros Voluntários), youth hostels or parish houses,” Robert explains.

Robert in Santiago. / SUR

Finish in Santiago

After the 35th day Robert (weighing 14 kg less and feeling happier times more) was lying on the square in Santiago de Compostela, in front of the Cathedral. “When I came up to the Cathedral, I fell down. I was both – tired as never in my life and the happiest person in the world. That feeling was mixed with sadness because I immediately asked myself 'what's next'? I was already missing my tiredness, my hunger, my thoughts and every moment in the mountains,” Robert remembers.

The Camino is truly special, and as they say even much more special during this year - the Holy year or Jacobean year (Xacobeo)

Finally, Robert Arutiunian got the 'compostela' and the confirmation of walking 1,040kms. “I was said that it was the longest possible distance they can mark. However, indeed I have walked 1,106km, and even more. After Santiago de Compostela I rushed to Fisterra that is marked as 0.00km because they say pilgrims are only soothed in this way. It happened exactly on my son's birthday and at that moment I felt sort of reborn. Actually, after the Way it is hard for pilgrims to go back to the ordinary world because you are a different person. The Camino is truly special, and as they say even much more special during this year - the Holy year or Jacobean year (Xacobeo). The Camino is a must as it really can change the life of anyone,” Robert tells.