It has almost as many names as kilometres, including the Camino de Santiago, St James’ Trail, and simply The Way. For one Engadine couple, the famed pilgrim walk started out as a way to raise money for an East Timorese village, but quickly became about finding their own way…
A series of pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St James in northwest Spain, the 800-kilometre Camino is more than 17,000 kilometres from Jerard and Enda Barry’s home in Sydney’s south.
The couple first encountered the Camino on a visit to Le Puy in France, and Jerard, 73, says he was immediately drawn to the idea of tackling the trek.
Enda, 68, admits she wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, but, as with all things in their marriage, wanted to be by Jerard’s side.
“I knew Jerard had a great desire to do the Camino so I thought long and hard about giving it a go,” she says.
“I never thought I would be up to the whole 800km, but I wanted to support him.”
The couple trained for two years, including long walks around Engadine and Heathcote and hiking in the Blue Mountains.
They also tried to prepare mentally, with Enda, a radiographer at St George Private Hospital, reading every book she could find on the subject.
“Some frightened me as I thought it well above my capabilities,” she told The Catholic Weekly by email. She also attended monthly meetings with pilgrims who had successfully completed the Camino.
“Eventually my desire to walk the Camino was as strong and determined as Jerard’s,” she says.
While the pilgrimage has generally exceeded their expectations, Jerard, a retired physicist, was disappointed to discover many churches along the route were closed.
“Mass is difficult to find when one is on a limited walking schedule,” he says.
“The upside was it caused us to pay more attention to individual meditation and prayer.”
At their most difficult moments on pilgrimage, as throughout their marriage, Jerard and Enda have relied on each other.
“I have knee problems and Enda looks out for me; Enda has some feet problems and I try to assist where possible,” Jerard says. “We encourage one another when the going gets tough.”
Enda says they kept their spirits up by laughing at the lighter moments, and by remaining focused on raising money for educational and pastoral resources for the East Timorese village of Maliana.
“We remind one another about the needs of Maliana for us to keep going,” Enda says.
Now two-thirds of the way through the journey, Jerard’s highlight has been casting aside stones to symbolise the letting go of regret, and praying with his wife at the Cross of Iron.
For Enda, the highlight is having the freedom to focus on nothing but the path ahead. The Camino, she says, brings peace.
The Barrys’ adult daughters Tara and Clodagh are following the pilgrimage closely through Jerard and Enda’s blog.
Tara admires her parents and their achievement, but admits she was initially nervous when they first proposed the idea.
“I was frightened,” she says. “I think I was just thinking, ‘Are they going to be safe?’ Now I’m just so proud.”
On returning from the Camino, the couple are eager to be reunited with Tara, Clodagh and families.
Jerard and Enda are also looking forward to returning to their parish of St John Bosco, Engadine, where parishioners have offered up daily prayers for the pilgrims as well as donating to their cause.
“Our local support was wonderful in the emotional and spiritual sense,” Jerard says.
Enda added: “Hearing daily from our parish members, friends and supporters was a huge encouragement, as was knowing that 100 per cent of the sponsorship money will go to Maliana.”
Active members of their extended parish community, Jerard and Enda devoted a day of prayer on pilgrimage to residents of John Paul Village, Heathcote, many of whom have also followed the Barrys’ progress.
The couple will also welcome luxuries that only weeks ago seemed basic necessities of life: a change of clothes, a second pair of shoes, a clothes line.
With less than 200km left to walk and their time on the Camino coming to an end, Jerard and Enda are already talking about what comes next. Jerard, in particular, is eager to undertake the pilgrimage again to support those tackling the Camino for the first time.
Financial and family circumstances have afforded the couple many opportunities for travel over the more than three decades.
“I feel as we married late in life with financial security that our 32 years together has given us the option of seeking more adventure in outdoors hiking and travel than many families would have experienced,” Jerard says.
From moving to the United States with a newborn to the arrival last year of their first grandchild, Enda says life has rarely had a quiet moment, but “now that our daughters are married and left home, we have more time with Jerard to smell the roses and grow old together”.
Jerard may be a scientist, but he is also a true romantic.
“Thirty-three years ago Enda and I met and within three days of meeting we decided we wanted to get married,” he recalls.
“Seven months later this happened. Neither of us proposed to the other.
“We just came to the tacit understanding that we would marry.
“So at the Cross of Iron, possibly the most meaningful point on the Camino, down on my knee I asked her if she would spend the rest of her life walking with me.”
Enda’s reply was simple.
Visit caminowalkformaliana.weebly.com to follow Jerard and Enda’s travels or to donate.