For most people, the word “honeymoon” likely evokes images of tropical resorts or other romantic getaways. When Lucy Dominguez and Oliver Lopez married five and a half years ago, they opted for a 29-day, 500-mile journey on foot through city streets, mountain trails and farmlands.
The couple had wanted a honeymoon that would help them get to know each other even better as they embarked on their new life together. A friend had told Dominguez about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, also known as “The Way of St. James.”
According to the official website of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago became a pilgrimage destination after the discovery of the Sepulcher of the Apostle Saint James the Greater in the region in the 9th century. Interest in the pilgrimage was renewed after Pope Leo XIII confirmed the authenticity of the apostle’s relics in 1884.
“It just sounded like the most amazing thing, and I thought, I’ve got to do this,” Dominguez said.
In lieu of a large reception, the couple had a simple Church wedding ceremony and were on a plane the next day.
LUCY DOMINGUEZ PRESENTING A JOURNAL OF PRAYERS TO POPE FRANCIS. PHOTO COURTESY OF LUCY DOMINGUEZ
Prior to their journey on the Camino, Dominguez and Lopez spent several days in Rome, meeting Pope Francis and receiving his blessing on their new marriage. Lopez recalls that although there were probably 50 couples dressed in wedding attire waiting to meet the pontiff, he found the Holy Father making eye contact with him.
“He looked at me, reached out his hand and signaled for us to come over,” he recalled. “It was the way you would imagine Jesus looking at you, with compassion. I want to be able to look at other people with that gaze … That has set the tone for our marriage. It set the tone for the Camino.”
Dominguez presented the Holy Father with a notebook full of prayers and petitions she had collected from friends and family prior in preparation for the experience.
“He put his hand over the notebook, he put his head down, he closed his eyes, and he said a prayer,” Dominguez said. “It was really beautiful.”
Two days later, the couple began their trek. The cathedral’s website lists six routes that pilgrims traditionally take to reach the cathedral. Dominguez and Lopez opted for the French Way, which they were told was the easiest and most traveled.
Travelers have a variety of choices regarding where to spend the night along the Camino, from camping to community hostels to luxury hotels.
“Because we were on our honeymoon, we decided to stay in private rooms,” Dominguez said.
This not only afforded the newlyweds additional privacy, but also gave them a place to charge their phones and wash their clothes.
“We only had three outfits each with us.”
Lopez felt that the journey gave the couple a deeper sense of one another. Although they had trained physically for the journey in advance, Dominguez struggled with tendonitis early on. Lopez recalls her determination to continue.
“Seeing her deal with the pain and overcome it, I was inspired by her,” he said.
Dominguez noted that the couple began each day by reading through the prayer notebook and praying together.
“Any chance we got, we would stop at a parish and pray there, attend Mass,” she said.
Upon learning that the couple was on their honeymoon, a nun at one parish even invited them to ring a bell made in the 1300s.
Dominguez had researched various traditions of Camino pilgrimages prior to the experience, including the wearing of a shell, the symbol of Saint James, to identify oneself as a pilgrim. Pilgrims greet each other with the phrase, buen camino, meaning, “good journey,” a custom that Lopez saw as “kind of an informal check-in.”
“You look out for one another. That level of community and kinship very hard to find here,” he said.
Another powerful experience for the couple was that of carrying a stone to lay at the foot of Cruz de Ferro, a giant cross marking the highest point along the French Way. The stones represent the burdens one has been carrying.
“It was a spiritual experience. It was a releasing experience,” Lopez said.
MAKING THE PILGRIMAGE
For those considering walking the Camino themselves, Dominguez and Lopez advised being prepared for the physical challenges involved.
“Sometimes people get injured, and they have to keep going, because they don’t have a place to stay,” Dominguez said.
She and Lopez used a guidebook that offered information about the towns, and an app called Camino Frances to make reservations and schedule transportation for their gear to daily destinations.
The Orange County chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino (americanpilgrims.org) also provides information for those interested in the pilgrimage.
“It was more spiritual than I could have imagined. We made more friends than I could have imagined,” Dominguez said. “Just having that time together – it was amazing.”