Seventy ISKCON devotees from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and the UK are set to participate in a 220-kilometer Padayatra, or Holy Walk from July 15th to 28th this summer. Their path? The famous Christian pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago, or St. James’ Way, in Northwest Spain.
Since medieval times, pilgrims walked the route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. Some walked for purely spiritual reasons, others to seek a favor from God, cure an ailment, or undergo penance. Today, thousands of pilgrims still walk the route each year, as an offering to God or as a way to seek answers and find meaning in life.
Few, however, have been Hare Krishnas!
“We first walked the Camino de Santiago in 2002, with thirty-two ISKCON youth,” says Deva-Sekhara Dasa, a second-generation devotee who attended gurukula schools in Spain and New Mayapur, France. “This year, about fifty per cent of the participants will again be youth. They look forward to recreating the great experience we had the first time, having a spiritual adventure, and sharing the Hare Krishna maha-mantra with other pilgrims.”
Deva-Sekhara, a graphic designer who regularly volunteers at youth programs and festivals in ISKCON Spain, is co-organizing the Holy Walk with senior devotees Dharma Dasa and Radha Govinda Dasa.
He explains that the group will leave from the rural ISKCON community of New Vraja Mandala on July 15th, taking a seven-hour bus drive to their starting point in the city of Ponferrada.
“We’ll start walking on the morning of the 16th, after a short spiritual program of guru puja, japa meditation, and a breakfast of sanctified food,” he says. “We’ll go for four to five hours, until we reach the next point. When we arrive, we’ll set up camp, eat prasadam and take some rest—we’ll be followed by a van carrying tents and kitchen equipment. Then we will have kirtan programs and talks about ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada. That will pretty much be our schedule every day.”
Srutakirti Dasa, who served as Srila Prabhupada’s personal assistant in the 1970s, will speak about his spiritual master. Other special guests include Bhaktivedanta College principal Yadunandana Swami, Iraq war veteran and preacher Partha-Sarathi Dasa, and members of the famous 24-hour kirtan in Vrindavana India, including Amala Purana Dasa, Radha Krishna Dasa, Devakinandana Dasa and Keshava Dasa.
Along their way, the pilgrims will get to see many old churches, tombs of ancient kings, beautiful countryside, and simple villages every five kilometers or so, where people live simply much like they did a century ago.
“As well as being an inspiring spiritual adventure for the participants, the Holy Walk will also be an attempt at interfaith outreach and exchange,” says Deva-Sekhara. “People in Spain are still mistrustful of devotees, and we would like to present Krishna consciousness, and our ISKCON youth, as spiritually open-minded and non-sectarian.”
The youth will attempt to share Krishna with local people, and to have respectful interfaith dialogue with every priest and pastor they meet.
“Meanwhile,” says Deva-Sekhara, “The Christian pilgrims will see us and think, ‘The Krishna youth are doing a Christian pilgrimage, so why not chant Hare Krishna with them?’”
The group plans to make the pilgrimage an annual event from now on, and looks forward to the years ahead.
“Krishna is present whenever devotees are working together towards a common spiritual goal,” Deva-Sekhara says. “So it’s not really about where we are, it’s about what we’re doing there—chanting Hare Krishna together. Sometimes walking every day can be difficult, and devotees will deal with some austerity—but Krishna will always be with us as we travel El Camino de Santiago together, and it will become the Krishna Way.”
For registration details and more information, please visit www.iskcon.es, New Vrajamandala`s Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.