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Pilgrimage begins in Wolseley

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It’s said, "All roads lead to Compostela."

The way there, whatever the route, is called "the Camino."

For over a thousand years, and for any number of reasons (faith, curiosity, physical challenge, mindfulness), pilgrims have journeyed the Camino across Europe, most commonly on foot, to the purported tomb of Saint James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain.

The idea and mindset of a "pilgrimage" is ancient. But it’s also a modern phenomenon.

Think of Martin Sheen in the 2010 movie, The Way. Remember, too, the tragic high-speed train crash outside Santiago this past August. Many of the passengers were pilgrims.

The registry office in Santiago reports that, last year, 192,488 pilgrims walked at least 110 km or cycled at least 200 km of the Camino to Santiago — 2,904 were Canadian.

If Santiago is where all roads lead, then the journey starts — for many Manitobans, at least — at the Neighbourhood Bookstore and Café at 898 Westminster Ave.

Since December 2010, the Winnipeg chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims (CCoP) has been holding coffee sessions here the second Friday of each month, from 7 to 9 p.m.

The CCoP supports both pilgrims and the Camino, supplying information to individuals before their journey and funding improvements to a Camino hostel (refugio) along the way.

The Winnipeg chapter provides an informal, friendly meeting place for aspiring and returned pilgrims through its Wolseley-based coffee sessions.

Ivor Lockhart, co-ordinator for the CCoP Winnipeg Chapter, said the value of the coffee sessions is "for pilgrims to connect with other pilgrims and share their experiences, to impart that information to newcomers who are planning to walk, and to enjoy the company of like-minded people."

Doreen Meisner, who walked over 800 km across Spain from France in 2010, said, "With this group you can re-live a life-changing experience. People feel it. You see it in their faces."

Currently, about 40 "regulars" attend the coffee sessions (as many as 27 an evening), approximately 60% women, 40% men, all ages and occupations.

About half have walked the Camino at least once — from France, or through Portugal, or within Spain. Seven from the Winnipeg group will be trekking at least one of these routes this summer and fall.

The next coffee night is Oct. 11.

A semi-annual formal meeting, with an agenda and presentations, will take place Sun., Nov. 10 at a West End meeting hall.

For more information, email santiagobound@yahoo.ca

Gail Perry is a community correspondent for Wolseley. She trekked across northern Spain from France to the Atlantic Ocean in 2012.

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