A father and his two sons, members of the Cathedral of the Assumption, walked part of the famous Camino de Santiago — the Way of St. James — in Spain this summer.
Along the way, they learned about the depth of their faith, the closeness of their family, and the universality of the church and its Mass.
They also took a relic of St. James with them, thanks to Archdiocese of Louisville archivist Tim Tomes. And both Bob and Sam Owings of Floyds Knobs, Ind., agreed that carrying the relic added a special significance to their trek.
Bob Owings and his sons Sam, 23, and Seth, 18, joined a family friend, Father John Meyer, who pastors a church in Greensburg, Ind., on the 10-day trip in late July. They were joined by other Catholic friends — about half a dozen fathers and their eight sons, ages 18 to 26. The group represented “fathers who were business owners and their sons,” Owings said.
“The sons were also young men still active in their church,” he added. “They were all strong Catholics.”
The fathers were also people who had known Father Meyer when he was a priest in Southern Indiana parishes. And it was the priest who first suggested that the men he’d first known as teens make the pilgrimage.
“We’d stayed in touch over the years,” Owings explained, “and it was Father Meyer who wanted to get us all back together now that we were in our 50s.”
When the pilgrimage was suggested, someone asked, “What if we bring along our sons?” Owings recalled. “And at that moment, everything changed. The whole idea had a new energy.”
The trip represented a chance for the fathers to strengthen the bonds that were already strong with their sons, who “if they aren’t working in the family business, they’re thinking about it,” said Owings.
Sam Owings echoed his father’s enthusiasm about the trip, and said it provided him with a chance to “mix three things that are important to me — my faith, hiking and my father.”
Sam, who already works with his father at Owings Patterns in Sellersburg, Ind., said the group represented a “kind of loose association of friends.”
“But it didn’t take long to realize that we all fit together well,” he said.
The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage winds along several trails through France, Spain and Portugal. The section of trail walked by the group from Indiana covered 70-plus miles and took five days.
“You walk through towns and villages that seem unchanged through time,” Bob Owings noted. “We all had a sense of leaving a lot of conveniences behind when we began. And we carried rocks to remind us of the weight we carry in the world.”
For Sam and his brother, Seth, who is a student at Butler University in Indianapolis, the pilgrimage “produced a meditative, kind of prayer state,” Sam said.
“We’re using the first means of transportation, our legs, and along the way we experienced our faith in new and really profound ways,” he said.
“I think I had the best confession I have ever had with Father John on the trail,” Sam added.
For his father, an especially significant part of the trip was “having Mass on the back of an oxcart.”
“We experienced Mass in Spanish and it spoke to and reminded us of the universality of the church,’’ he said.
The group began their trek in Sarria, a Spanish town some 100 kilometers east of Galicia and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela — where the faithful say the body of St. James the Great is buried.
Carrying a relic of St. James along the hills and valleys of the five-day walk added “a remarkable significance to the journey,” Bob Owings said. “We’re so grateful that Tim (Tomes) allowed us to take the relic.”
“It was the first time St. James had flown, I’m sure,” he said with a grin. “I mean, he goes all the way from the Compostela to America, then back to Spain with us.”
Five different people — the Owings and two other pilgrims — took turns carrying the relic, a fragment of one of the saint’s bones. And Bob Owings gave it to Father Meyer to carry as he concelebrated Mass on the Feast Day of St. James at the end of their pilgrimage.
“The feast day and the festival exceeded our expectations,” he added. “We waited for four hours to get inside for Mass. Every hour the line would move a little but we just did it, and no one complained.”
In fact, the entire trip — including the blisters that everyone experienced along the way — gave no cause for discontent.
“There was never a moment at any place along the way where anyone was disrespectful of the pilgrimage,” Sam Owings said. “There was no one saying along the way, ‘I hate all this walking.’ ”
Instead, the entire experience left the strong Catholics, who took part, with an even stronger commitment to their faith, the pair said.
“It was, without question, an almost effortless way for us to discover the strength of our faith,” Sam Owings said.