Walk 565 miles in my shoes

By Marj Oleske

Imagine traveling from Martin, South Dakota, to Kansas City, Missouri. Now imagine that trip by foot, with a 40-pound backpack. Now imagine that you don’t speak the language and are dependent on the hospitality of strangers.

Anthony Kathol, of Martin, made such a journey, in his 565 mile pilgrimage across Spain. The El Camino de Santiago, the way of St. James, is a religious pilgrimage which dates back to the time of the Middle Ages. 

His journey started at St. Jean de Pied-Port, France, at the foot of the Pyrannes Mountains, and continued to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago.

The inspiration for making the pilgrimage came from watching a movie, “The Way,” which is the story of another man’s walk of the pilgrimage.

“I had recently retired from my job and this movie inspired me to get away from the distractions of the world in order for me to seek out a new sense of purpose and direction in my life,” he explained. “It was a spiritual pilgrimage that I will never forget.”

Along the way Kathol stayed at many private, municipal, and parochial  hostels. Some of the challenges faced along the way included “Not being sure if I was going to make it within the allotted time due to physical limitations. I had one major blister on my right heel which impaired me for two to three days and I had to walk in my sandals to not aggravate it. Many more pilgrims had worse blisters. Blisters are part of the walk and you accept them with grace. Someone said that the number of blisters you have on your feet is equivalent to the number of sins you have. Well, I had one major blister and one minor blister on my right foot, none on my left foot the entire trip.”

Other physical obstacles included having knees swell like grapefruits about a week out from Santiago as a result of all the weight in my backpack carrying over the mountains and the steep decline and pounding that my legs took when going downhill. I believe it was God’s way of getting me to slow down to hear his message.

Having a map helped, but Kathol reported that it was important to pay attention to where you are going! “When hiking in the big cities, one had to really pay close attention where the yellow arrow ‘way marks’ were posted, as the marks were in competition with all the street and advertising signs along the way. For example, a yellow arrow would be painted on the back of a stop sign or a light pole. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d get lost quickly. This happened on occasion, but many locals informed me right away that I was not going the right way and got me back on the path. That was comforting as the locals are used to the pilgrims walking in their communities and welcome them.”

Forty-two days after taking the first step, Kathol arrived at his destination. Since his shoes were not completely worn out yet, he continued three more days to walk to Finisterre, Spain, to reach the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. This is the place where people thought that ships fell off the edge of the earth, when it was believed the world was flat.

At the completion of the walk at both Santiago and Finisterre, Kathol received a compostela, which is a certification of the completion of the pilgrimage. His name is also included in the Church registry for his accomplishment. 

Prior to starting his journey, Kathol visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France. Kathol finished his experience by giving thanks to the Blessed Mother in Fatima, Portugal.

The public is invited to follow in Anthony’s footsteps as he presents the story and photos of his journey on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church basement in Martin. A potluck meal will be served prior to the presentation.

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