Walking hundreds of miles, no easy feat

The twin steeples of St. Joseph Church in Butchertown can be seen from a nearby street. The parish is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise $2.7 million for the “Save the Steeples” project. There are also plans to install a new roof and repair the church’s largest stained-glass window. Father David Sánchez plans to raise a portion of those funds by walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage through France and Spain. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

How far would a priest be willing to go for his parish? If it is Father David Sánchez, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Butchertown, approximately 937 miles by foot through Spain and France.

In mid-July, Father Sánchez will embark on the Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of St. James, as a means of raising funds to repair St. Joseph’s historic twin steeples and other parts of the church. Father Sánchez said he hopes to raise at least $200,000 from the pilgrimage.

The steeples, which rise majestically in the downtown sky, have fallen into disrepair, said Father Sánchez. They’re weathered and have been losing their slate tiling, he noted. The 152-year-old church also needs a new roof and repairs to its largest stained-glass window.

St. Joseph is in the middle of a capital campaign which aims to raise $2.7 million for the “Save the Steeples” project, said Father Sánchez during an interview at the Butchertown parish June 22. Thanks to parishioners and people in the community, the parish has received close to $1 million in pledges already, he said. The campaign should wrap up in about two years and then the work to repair the church will begin, he said. 

The Camino pilgrimage is a series of paths that wind through Europe leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The remains of St. James — whom according to Scriptures was one of the first disciples called by Jesus — are said to be buried there.

Father Sánchez will leave for Europe on July 13 and aims to complete the pilgrimage in 78 days and return to his parish in October. He will begin the pilgrimage in the southern French town of Le Puy. From there he will travel through Conques, Moissac and Ostabat to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port — a distance of approximately 460 miles according to wherespadre.org, a website where Father Sánchez will document his journey. From there he’ll enter  Spain and continue the route through Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Puente la Reina, Logroño, Burgos, León, Astorga, Ponferrada and then finally Galicia — approximately 480 miles.

Walking hundreds of miles is not an easy feat.

Father Sánchez has been preparing both physically and spiritually for this journey, he said. He’s nearing the end of a 20-week physical fitness program. He performs hundreds of squats and sit-ups each day with the goal of strengthening his body. But he prays, too, to strengthen his spirit, he said. The priest, who described himself as an “extrovert,” said he will undoubtedly be challenged by the silence the Camino will require. 

“I’m training to be contemplative. While exercising I’m praying the Hail Mary, the Our Father and the Glory Be. I concentrate on the prayers and not the pain going through my body,” said Father Sánchez.

While doing his physical strength training, Father Sánchez said he also uses that time to try and imagine what his pilgrimage will be like. “I imagine long roads, long fields and other pilgrims walking,” he said.

Father Sánchez will be 50-years-old on Sept. 25, right as he is nearing the end of his pilgrimage, he said. Besides raising much-needed funds for his parish, this journey will also serve as a time of reflection.

It will be a time of “discernment of spirit, reflection on my ministry and my future as a human being,” said Father Sanchez.

He believes, he said, that the age of 50 should be an age of evaluation.

“It’s a time to check the house and see how you’re doing, how others perceive me,” he said. The Camino de Santiago will be a “deep spiritual and emotional process” and he’s looking forward to the “opportunities” the Holy Spirit will present as he walks in silence.

Father Sánchez will document his journey on the website wherespadre.org. Donations and prayer intentions can also be made by visiting that site.

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