Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders (EREBB) is an International network of Catholic schools, from over 20 countries, that are inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ, Gospel values and the spirit of Edmund Rice (founder of The Christian Brothers). Recently, two Irish schools from this network – Midleton CBS and Ard Scoil Ris, Limerick, decided to strengthen ties by walking the famous Camino just prior to Easter this year.
The suggestion that Edmund Rice schools might explore the possibility of walking the Camino de Santiago together developed at a gathering of EREBB lead schools in Callan in the autumn of 2015. An itinerary was researched and a travel package arranged before lead schools within the European Province of the Christian Brothers were invited to participate in the EREBB /Edmund Rice Camino during Easter week of 2016. Midleton CBS from Cork and Ardscoil Ris from Limerick decided to come together and participate in this inaugural and unique event. A combined group of 40 students and staff from both schools set out on this exciting adventure on Palm Sunday, April 20th 2016.
The EREBB Easter Camino incorporated a number of significant aspects of faith and spirituality. As Catholic schools in the Edmund Rice tradition this was a pilgrimage-not merely a walking tour. Our Camino intentions and plans were mindful of the various characteristics of the Jubilee Year of Mercy as proclaimed by Pope Francis. It took place during Holy Week and included elements of prayer, spiritual reflection and/or liturgical celebration each day and concluded with our participation in the Easter Vigil Mass in Santiago on Holy Saturday night. Significantly, the Camino event gave witness to the vision that inspired the establishment of EREBB including: sharing identity, partnership, collaboration, networking and gospel cantered formation. It was a wonderful example of the blending together of two Edmund Rice schools for a common purpose. We quickly became a unified group of students and staff bound by our identity, by friendship, co-operation and solidarity with each other in the spirit and the charism of Blessed Edmund Rice.
Having set off from our respective homes the previous morning both schools eventually met in the town of Sarria in Spain on Monday to share breakfast and begin our walk together on the final 115Kms of the Camino Francés or “French Way” to Santiago de Compostella. This is the minimum walking distance required for pilgrims who wish to apply for an official pilgrim certificate on completion of their journey at the Cathedral in Santiago. The route which begins from Sarria is the most popular section of the Camino and in many ways captures the essence of what the Camino is all about. On our first day as we walked to Portomarín we slowly began to absorb and experience the spirit as we immersed ourselves in the unique atmosphere, peace, pace and inner nature of the Camino de Santiago.
On each of the following days we walked upwards of 25km in all sorts of combinations and groupings which alternated intermittently as we progressed. We stayed as one group in towns and villages along the way and had our luggage transferred to our accommodation each day to ease our journey. Thankfully it was favourable weather for walking during our trip-mainly dry, a little cool with sunny spells throughout. Our journey together was a unique experience both as individuals and collectively, which we all enjoyed in different and diverse ways. Each day was different. Aspects that linger in the memory include the winding rural roads and pathways, farmsteads, woodlands, streams and rustic hamlets. We encountered an assortment of historical churches, monuments and buildings en route as well as having the beautiful Galician countryside to admire and enjoy. The unique atmosphere generated along the medieval city streets and around the famous Cathedral of Santiago during Good Friday and Holy Saturday was simply amazing. Despite heavy rainfall on our final two days, the distinctive Easter pageantry and ceremony which we encountered in Santiago will live long in our memories.
One of the more enduring recollections from our Camino experience is the fun, craic, laughter, conversations and banter between us. The meals we shared were great social occasions which we looked forward to each evening. As schools in the Edmund Rice tradition the bonding that occurred between us was tremendous. We quickly recognised just how united our group was as we share so much in common including our ethos, our academic and sporting reputations as well as the keen hurling rivalry which has developed between us over recent years. All of this inter-connectivity was interspersed by encounters and interactions with our fellow pilgrims from across the globe that we met at various junctures en-route. All of these “connections” form a vital part of the memory, enjoyment and distinctiveness of our Camino experience together.
As our friendships developed, shenanigans became commonplace. Any potential sources of difficulty were quickly addressed. For example, any hint of snoring by a weary pilgrim during the night no matter how slight might become amplified, exaggerated and embellished at breakfast the following morning. Industrial standard ear plugs became the standard retort and a pain-free and effective solution to the problem. The unwelcome onset of foot blisters however became a more uncomfortable topic which had brought added discomfort to some in our group as time went by. The pain endured from blistered feet is no joking matter but care, support and encouragement were always on hand for those whose feet suffered most as the days progressed.
Perhaps the EREBB Easter Camino experience is best summarised by the comments, thoughts and reflections gathered in the aftermath from some students in the group. One remarked: “For me the Camino was amazing and totally different to anything I had experienced or expected beforehand”. Another said : “ It was a great experience. I really enjoyed being part of it and meeting new people from all over the world”. Another wrote: “The Camino was an enjoyable and very rewarding experience”. It challenged me both mentally and physically and gave me a great sense of satisfaction at the end”. Another one of the students remarked : “ It was very enjoyable to walk through the Spainish countryside with my friends and the lads from Ardscoil. It was just a fantastic and memorable experience “. Another student stated : “ I really enjoyed the experience and I have made friends for life”. Another student wrote: “ I had the experience of a lifetime on the Camino. I achieved what I wanted to on the walk and met lots of new and interesting people along the way”.
Every pilgrim in their own unique way has taken something positive, precious and personal from their experience of walking the Camino as part of an Edmund Rice group. Many would say that it is difficult to effectively express or put into words what the Camino experience is like for them. Without doubt our lives have been enriched in many ways by this unique pilgrim journey. The bonds of friendship between our two schools have been greatly enhanced by our experiences together on the Camino. Hopefully the concept of an EREBB / Edmund Rice Camino will continue to grow and develop in years to come so that students, staff, brothers and their companions within the wider Edmund Rice Network will have the opportunity to enrich, encourage and nurture each other through a celebration of our common identity by undertaking this unique pilgrim journey together.