‘Searching for God’ and healing on the Camino de Santiago

On the Meseta before Ledigos, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mark Jospeh Peredo

For Mark Joseph Peredo, walking the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) represented the reset button on his life.

After going through a terrible car accident that put his life in serious jeopardy, Peredo was then struck again with the death of his father. In 2016, he set off on the Camino with his father’s ashes and his cousin, Bolivian filmmaker Jonatán Fernández.

Peredo hoped that the Camino would remove the pain from old, familial wounds. Little did he know that this trip, which ended in the Spanish seaside town Muxia, one of the Camino’s final stops, would bring him that and so much more. His experiences on the Camino led him to make a documentary titled Road to Muxia. The film details his journey and those of other pilgrims.

Peredo recently spoke with Catholic Digest about his experience in walking the Camino, an ancient network of pilgrimage routes in Europe that end at the shrine of St. James the Apostle in northwestern Spain. The Camino has long been regarded as a place of spiritual healing and discovery, with pilgrims and countless others flocking there each year.

Road to Muxia is a documentary about people walking in a devoted way for someone,” said Peredo, an Indiana native. “It’s about people dealing with loss, death, changes in their lives, and their search for hope and spiritual healing on the Camino of Santiago.”

On the Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mark Joseph Peredo

Q: Why did you choose to travel the Camino de Santiago instead of the countless other religious/spiritual paths located throughout the world?

A: There was so much going on in my life at that time, which included a near fatal auto accident that nearly led to my foot being amputated and which smashed in part of my face. Dealing with operations and medication caused my business to cease, and then the death of my father followed shortly after. Then, came learning to walk again and taking on the elder care of my mother the best way I knew how. All this along with trying to balance a family with three kids.

I was at a point in my life where I was losing trust in myself and God. I really started to resent God. I needed a way to find myself again and find God and his purest form without big buildings or expectations of how to dress or act but to be free in my process. I had seen travel shows and media about the Camino of Santiago years prior so I knew one day that’s where I would go.

Q: What are a few things that you want people to take away from the film?

A: It’s OK to be authentic and to be a human mess and let go of the superficial stuff. Find hope. Find God.

Road to Muxia is real. It’s not just a film; it’s a documentary. Documentaries cover subjects that are uncomfortable and controversial, subjects that can be complicated, such as patience, love, and forgiveness. Road to Muxia is tough. It’s a deep dive into these subjects through my Camino and that of fellow pilgrims.

One of the people interviewed in Road to Muxia is Fr. Philip Scott of the Family of Jesus religious community ordained by the Catholic Church out of Peru. Fr. Philip said that people, some Catholic, some from other Christian faiths, and some with no faith, go on the Camino because they are searching. And they’re searching for hope again — searching for God.

A mother’s devotion for her two children in Galicia, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mark Joseph Peredo

Q: Did you find yourself interacting at all with the other pilgrims walking the Camino, and if so, in what ways?

A: Yes. When you’re interacting with each other, you’re usually talking and listening. I always liken it to the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37). It’s just what the Camino, at many times, embodies.

I think what had the most significant impact socially on me was at the end of the journey in the third stage of the Camino. I was heading into Galicia when I met a group of people — there were four of us — that I connected with. Somehow, we became what I and other people call a Camino family. We were tight. There we were, three men and one woman, like brothers and a sister, sharing food, bunk rooms in albergues (pilgrim hostels) and even rotating laundry duty.

I’ve never felt closer to people in my entire life.

Sharing pilgrim friendship and breakfast at the Albergue Monasterio de Benedictinas in León, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mark Joseph Peredo

Q: Was there a certain point along the Camino that affected you or caught your interest more than any other?

A: If you travel the traditional route of the Camino from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, to Roncesvalles, Spain, the first day is where you traverse over the Basque Pyrenees from France into Spain. On that journey you come upon the Shrine of the Virgin of Orisson.

When I gazed upon the statue of the Virgin Maria, all the issues I had been experiencing with my faith at that point bubbled up to the surface.

I had experienced emotional poking and manipulation from people I trusted over the years. Because they on some level “represented” God, I felt that I was losing God.

I looked at this statue of Maria — this Virgin of Orrison — in anger. How would I trust God again?

Q: What kind of spiritual experiences did you have while on this journey?

A: It happened at 6 a.m. in El Burgo Ranero, a small town near the end of the Meseta in the Hostal-Restaurante El Peregrino.

I was the first one in the coffee shop, and I was facing the owner, a man who was about 60. He asked me what I wanted. I told him, and he turned around to begin making it. As I was watching him, I heard my dad say my name: “Mark …”

Tears began to well up in my eyes. The owner of the coffee shop turned around with my cup of coffee, and I can just imagine what I looked like in front of him with my tears running down my face. He became emotional as well and we shared that moment together.

How would I trust God again?

Q: Did these experiences help you grow in your faith in any way, and if so, how?

A: Like every parent, my dad had a way of saying my name that indicated whether he was upset or whether he approved of something I had done. When I heard him say my name in the coffee shop, I could envision him standing there in a short sleeve dress shirt, a notepad and pen in his pocket, hands in his slacks — looking at me and smiling slightly at the same time.

Throughout your life, people tell you about all the things that you’re doing wrong. At that moment, I realized that everything I was doing was right, regardless of what others thought.

If you’re following your heart, God will guide you. It’s that simple.

Photo courtesy of “Road to Muxia”

Q: What importance did the town of Muxia hold for you on this journey?

When I finally reached Santiago de Compostela, the traditional end of the Camino, I was still unsettled and a mess.

At the cathedral in Santiago, they have these open booth confessionals. I went to one, and while I was there, the priest did something that is never done in face-to-face confessions.

He leaned forward and took my right hand into his right hand, placed his left hand on my shoulder, and pulled me in and spoke in a low voice to me.

“You are a true pilgrim in your heart — your Camino does not end here. You must continue on to Muxia with your father’s ashes. Find a quiet spot on the shore and let them go. You will find your answers along the way.”

The priest was right. It was on the road to Muxia that I worked through why I was hurting, spiritually unsettled, and felt so alone. I began to heal my relationship with God.

Your Camino does not end here.

Q: Did you find yourself growing physically or emotionally weary while on this journey? If so, how did you deal with that?

The physical challenges that I faced while walking the Camino primarily came from my reconstructed foot. It took me a year to walk again, and I needed a place to prove to myself that I was still whole.

At the same time, I was sorting through my expectations of what it meant to be a man and a provider. I was trying to find a way to emotionally heal.

Then I thought of my father, who had a strained relationship with his own alcoholic father. On his deathbed, my father saw a manifestation of my grandfather twice, and I remember his exact words. “What are you doing here? You gave me nothing. You left us. I don’t love you. I don’t need you. Just leave.”

It was an inability to forgive, sadness, and pain. It affected me.

So what do you do? I carried his ashes and I walked the Camino in the hope of healing.

Before Mark Joseph Peredo let his father’s ashes go at Praia de Espiñerido in Muxia, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mark Joseph Peredo

To learn more:

Road to Muxia is raising $83,500 through Kickstarter.com for final filming and post-production. The documentary is expected to be released in November.

Five facts about the Camino de Santiago

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