Sometimes all it takes is a little adversity to facilitate a change in perspective. For freshman political science major William Motazedi, a hike through the pouring rain served as a turning point, transforming our Honors Passport: Pilgrimage trip from an incredible academic opportunity into a journey through the intricacies of faith and its manifestations in the human spirit.

Seeing thunderclouds pour over the peak of a mountain can evoke a wide array of emotions in those who witness such a force of nature. Some feel fear while others are struck with awe. For me, witnessing the dark rain clouds quickly blanket the very sky under which our group hiked was a strangely cathartic experience. That day it did not just sprinkle on us in the Pyrenees. In fact, we were subject to snow, thunder, and torrential rain. While this three-mile glimpse in the totality of the Camino de Santiago came and went, it truly provided the most profound moment on the entire trip. That day opened my eyes to the greater purpose of our trip and much like the weather that day, was not about a slight drizzle, but the pouring out of the greater importance of pilgrimage.

Students in ponchos and clutching umbrellas traverse soggy terrain.

The trek through the Pyrenees proved to be a wet one. William Motazedi is shown at far right. Photo by Russell Cothren.

Going into the trip, I was tasked with researching the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This cathedral, dedicated to St. James, was placed at the terminus of the Camino and throughout its construction was surrounded with turmoil. Bishop Diego Gelmirez was the centerpiece of this construction and he was steadfast in transforming his provincial town into a religious hub that could compete with the likes of Rome and Jerusalem. This struggle he was willing to endure remained a mystery to me until I stepped foot onto the trail of the Camino and witness the trials that so many others are privileged to experience for the span of five weeks.

Walking through the mountain pass informed me about how important the Camino truly is to the community of believers and non-believers alike. From enduring the elements, to starting a massive building campaign, the Camino was something for which people were willing to sacrifice their reputation and comfort. As the rain began to fall I too felt the baggage I carried with me to Europe being washed away. Walking and being able to endure the deluge embodied what so many of my ancestors in faith had realized. Right then and there, much like the thousands before me, I felt absolved from the pain and struggle I had felt at the time. While I did sacrifice comfort, I received a feeling of grace which made the treacherous hike worth it.

The power of the moment stayed with me throughout my journey. With each site we subsequently visited I carried with me a greater understanding as to why people were willing to put so much on the line for this trail in the mountains of Europe. The Camino de Santiago acted as a way for the struggling to leave a piece of themselves behind. Knowing how important that was for people across Europe is crucial to realizing the glory and sacrifice seen in the dynamics of such a renowned experience.

The Camino of Saint James not only gave participants like myself an outlet to clear the problems he or she might face, but also motivated millions over the centuries to endure hardships for the sake of this divine trail. The mystery of this journey unraveled itself to me and without this revelation I am not sure I would have been able to comprehend the inner workings of Bishop Gelmirez or the travelers. I will always remember how quickly this discovery hit me. Mimicking the storm that day, these understandings did not come slowly, but through a sudden outpouring of emotion, faith, and enlightenment.