Recently Newman Chaplain Father Adam Grelinger traveled to Spain with his parents to walk half the iconic Camino de Santiago. Each of the Grelingers is a Newman alumn; Father Adam is from the graduating class of 2011, his mother, Melissa, from the class of 1982 and his father, Bart, from the class of 1983.
The Grelinger family walked 257 miles of the nearly 500-mile Camino and met several people from around the globe along the way. Father Adam said one of the best parts was being able to meet such a diverse group of people from Peru, Australia, South Africa, Gauna, France, Spain, Sweden, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, England, Ireland, Poland, Italy and elsewhere.
Chipping away at the goal of a lifetime
This trip was the first time Bart and Melissa visited Spain but it wasn’t for Father Adam. After he graduated from Newman, he and his roommate, Father J.D. Betzen, decided to travel across Europe.
“When I graduated from Newman in 2011, my roommate and I decided, before life got real, to go and do three weeks backpacking across Europe. We started in Ireland and went to Italy. So we cut through Spain but we didn’t spend a ton of time there,” Father Adam said.
Returning to Spain was something Father Adam had always wanted to do, especially to walk the Camino. He wanted to complete the pilgrimage both for spiritual reasons and because it would be more fulfilling than a regular vacation.
“It’s something we kind of wanted to do, and especially when I became the chaplain here and had a little more availability in my summers. Jason Searl, who’s a member of Newman’s board, has been on a few times and talked really highly. So we were really excited about it,” Father Adam said.
Father Adam wasn’t the only one excited — so were his parents.
“We had several friends who had walked part or all of the Camino and for them, it was a life-changing experience. I was intrigued by their experiences and wanted to see for myself what this pilgrimage was all about. When Adam asked us if we were interested in joining him, we were immediately on board,” Melissa said.
“I am looking at winding down my career as a physician and have felt I needed some time to step out of this hurried pace and reflect on what this might look like,” Bart said. “Adam asking Melissa and me to join him on this adventure opened up a wonderful opportunity to spend more personal time with him and my wife in addition to time to reflect on what the next several years may look like.”
The pilgrimage took the Grelinger family around three weeks as they walked for 17 days. To rest and sleep during the night, they spent their time at hostels and hotels along the popular road. During their pilgrimage, they even came upon a wine tap machine for people walking the Camino.
“The experience was beautiful, hard, exhausting, spiritual, fun and life-giving. The memories are so numerous: from the mind-boggling architecture and artwork, fellow pilgrims you meet and share the Camino with, the bottles of rosé we shared when we reached our destination for the day, the rainbow in a huge whispy cloud shaped like a dove on a bright sunny day and of course sharing this moving experience with my husband and my son,” Melissa said.
Making memories along the Camino
Bart said it was a spectacular experience and surpassed all of his expectations.
Father Adam’s favorite memories from the trip were spontaneous.
“We were passing through Leon and it happened to be on the feast of St. John the Baptist. They had all these festivities going on and then we came to an outdoor Mass, where they had a procession with a marching band through the city, which was really cool,” Father Adam said.
“One of the days, there was a split in the road but on the one that we picked, we had to climb up a hill, past a church and we ran into this religious sister who is the care keeper of the church. Out of the blue, she asked us if we wanted to see the church, so she let us in and allowed us to ring the bell, which she said is the oldest bell in that region of Spain.”
Memories weren’t the only thing they took from the pilgrimage, as Melissa and Father Adam said it helped them to realize and learn new ways of thinking.
“I learned the pilgrimage is different for everyone; it becomes a personal experience unique to you. I learned when you turn off the noise of life, the simplicity in front of you is refreshing and renewing and the journey is rewarding and fulfilling. I was reminded how blessed I am and how so many people, no matter their age, are searching for answers and healing,” Melissa said. “Walking and experiencing the Camino and the fellow pilgrims you meet on the path made me feel like I was truly living life and not just hurrying through my day and missing the people God has put on my path.”
Returning to life’s basics
Father Adam said what he learned was simplicity and necessity through what he brought and carried throughout the trip. It helped him to reflect on life and the journey of life, as well as to minimize and subtract the things you don’t need.
He did the pilgrimage with an 18-pound backpack filled with water, a few clothes and basic necessities. He also said he learned and thinks of the pilgrimage of the Camino as an example of life.
“It is kind of a metaphor for life that you’re heading to a destination, a holy destination if you believe there’s heaven. The pilgrimage of Santiago is that it’s your journey to the tomb of the apostle (St. James), which is a holy place. So every day on the Camino, you pick up your pack, you can bury your burden in some way and you keep going. And some days are really hard. There are a lot of uphills and downhills but you just keep going. You gotta keep going toward the destination,” Father Adam said.
Although the three didn’t complete the full pilgrimage, they plan to return next summer to finish the Camino de Santiago experience.
“It was our first time doing it but we hope and would love to return and finish. That’s the goal,” Father Adam said.