Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus takes the reader on a journey of beauty and pain, trials and triumphs. It is the story of Fr. Dave Pivonka’s pilgrimage through the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago, which traverses about 500 miles from St. Jean-Pier-de-Port, France to Santiago, Spain, the burial place of St. James. The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage path that has been traveled for centuries, and it is full of historic villages, beautiful scenery, and unforgettable people. However, Hiking the Camino is not just a travel book; it is an intimate look into a priest’s pilgrimage of thanksgiving for his vocation, a man’s pain in walking day after day, and a soul’s continued search for the God that calls continually and loves beyond all measure.
Fr. Dave decided to walk the Camino as a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for his vocation as a priest. In preparation for his journey, he walked four five times a week, participated in sporting activities, and was careful to traverse many hills at his residence in Gaming, Austria. He also prepared for his journey spiritually by reading about various saints associated with the Camino and most importantly, by spending time in Eucharistic adoration. "I prayed that I would be able to offer God my Camino as a humble offering of thanksgiving for allowing me to be a priest. I also prayed that Jesus would use the Camino to make me holy…as I prayed I continued to be struck by the words “All this for the King.” So this became the theme for my Camino…It should be noted that I had no idea what this meant." p. 9
The connection between the human body and soul and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross becomes palpable in Hiking the Camino. Fr. Dave is brutally honest about the pain of walking mile after mile, day after day. Pain is an unavoidable reality for every pilgrim on the Camino. Like so many Christian writers before him, Fr. Dave explains that pain and suffering can bring us close to God if only we will make it our companion instead of our enemy. God’s grace in Christ makes the redemption of our suffering a reality. “As I trudged forward, I prayed; I prayed a lot. In the midst of the discomfort I found myself repeating my theme for the Camino, “All this for the King. All this for the King.” I soon realized that the pain in my body was the this in “All this for the King.” I knew God was inviting me to give everything about the Camino to Christ.” p. 24-25
In giving all of his Camino to Christ, Fr. Dave also gained many insights on giving all of life to Christ, day by day. Like the day after day journey on the Camino, the spiritual life is a day to day reality and existence. There are times when it seems that we make no progress and other times when we move forward by leaps and bounds. But, even on the shorter walking days, Fr. Dave realized his Camino required a day-in-day-out commitment to walking mile after mile, just as the journey toward heaven requires a day-in-day-out commitment to Christ. "…what was ultimately important was that I…kept moving ahead, even at what seemed like a snail’s pace. In order to progress [in the spiritual life] we must renew our commitment to Christ daily and then become committed to this over and over again. It is a lot like walking the Camino: just keep moving forward." p. 50
Fr. Dave has a knack for bringing the reader right into the action of his adventures. He has an informal, conversational writing style that helps the reader feel as if they are sitting at one of the pilgrim dinners at a village eatery along the path or watching World Cup Soccer and enjoying a beer with fellow pilgrims at the albergue. Fr. Dave is a wonderful story teller who can connect the spiritual and religious dimension of life to the senses; his encounters with fellow pilgrims like Mara, who was looking to leave her pain behind, Pablo and his backpack, as well as the elderly Teresa and her blind husband Anthony, are gripping and full of insight into many dimensions of life.
The close of Fr. Dave’s journey at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago on the feast of Corpus Christi is the pinnacle of his story. From the emotional pilgrim’s ritual at the Cathedral, to the giant thurible, to the triumph of receiving the Compostela as proof of the journey, the reader cannot help but feel the thanksgiving and exhilaration of Fr. Dave and his fellow pilgrims. Hiking the Camino is a journey worth taking through the pages of Fr. Dave’s sincere and insightful story. I could not help but dream about my own Camino in Spain, but more importantly, I continue to carry a deeper sense of the holy pilgrimage of every moment in every day.
This review was written as part of the Catholic Book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus.