Megan Quinn Faith Columnist
Megan Quinn Faith Columnist

A spiritual journey is winding itself throughout Europe — and the story of its well-worn path is coming to Boulder.

The story is about the Camino, a spiritual pilgrimage of about 500 miles from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France through most of Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Camino is more than a trail. It is a religious and emotional journey. The Camino is a spiritual pilgrimage trail first used in the Middle Ages, when pilgrims sought forgiveness for their sins and a path to heaven. Sometimes called the Route of St. James, the Camino is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts thousands of visitors each year. In 2010, more than 270,000 people walked at least part of the path, according to UNESCO.

Documentary filmmaker Lydia Smith has walked the trail, and is now on a more local journey to share her Camino experiences. Smith will come to Boulder and there will be several screenings of her film, "Walking the Camino," and discussions starting March 19.

"The film isn't about getting people to walk the Camino, but to walk their own Camino, walk their own path," Smith said by phone from Arizona, where she was on a much shorter journey to walk her dog before a film screening.

Several Camino pilgrims will visit Boulder to talk about their experiences in the next few weeks. Smith will attend the Boulder International Film Series screening at 7:30 p.m. March 19 at IFS, 1801 Colorado Ave.


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Annie O'Neil, an L.A.-based traveler who completed the Camino in 2009, will attend a screening of the film on March 28. The film will run March 28 through April 3 at the Boedecker Theater at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St.

"Walking the Camino" follows six strangers from around the world as they attempt to cross most of Spain on foot, each with just a backpack and a pair of hiking boots.

The Camino is officially described as any passage in Europe that leads to the city of Santiago de Compostela, and that path could start at anyone's front door. The film follows pilgrims who walked along a specific trail called the Camino Franc├ęs.

The pilgrims' motivations are diverse and deep, Smith said. Some want an adventure. Others seek spiritual reflection and enlightenment. Others hope to strengthen relationships with their family and friends who have decided to walk the path together.

Smith began her own Camino journey in 2008, when she found herself at a personal crossroads. She was between jobs and had just ended her relationship with her then-fiancee. Somehow, she said, the Camino called to her.

After walking through the Camino's beautiful landscapes and meeting a tight-knit circle of pilgrims who showed kindness and wisdom to fellow travelers along the path, she considered making a documentary about the pilgrimage.

"I was wary, though, because I wasn't sure I could do (the Camino) justice," she said.

After thinking about it for six weeks, she knew she had to make a film. But instead of focusing on her pilgrimage, she decided to return to the Camino and let the story unfold.

"I wanted the Camino to cast the film, not me," she said.

One of the pilgrims in the film is O'Neil, who said the journey was challenging but full of wonder.

"I think of it as walking in a postcard, walking in such beauty," O'Neil said.

The film also includes stories of people of faith, people struggling with relationships and people who walk the path to remember loved ones who have died.

Aside from the profound spirituality of the road, there also is the deep — and often humorous — humanity of a Camino journey, Smith said.

In special Camino-related hostels, people snore and keep each other awake. People get blisters. They get sick. They get annoyed with one another. They get sunburned, soaked by rain and chilled by snow, she said.

In the end, though, there is an undeniable kinship between the pilgrims that underscores the spirituality of the journey, she said.

"You encounter incredible kindness ... the connections you make are so magical," she said.

Megan Quinn writes a weekly faith column for the Camera. Contact her at quinnm@dailycamera.com