The «Hontanas» project:
spiritual renewal on the Camino de Santiago
HONTANAS is a village of 73 inhabitants on the Camino de Santiago in the province of Burgos (Castilla y León, Spain). Although it’s a small village, it has four inns and three guesthouses, all very close to each other, making it easy to get in touch with pilgrims. Its streets and medieval buildings are delightfully restored and, with its many fountains, it’s a place that invites you to stay and rest. In 2015, our sisters in Spain launched a project to welcome pilgrims, which was then opened up to participation by the entire Congregation and lay people.
This missionary presence is in line with Pope Francis call to reach out to those who are not in the Church, or who, while in the Church, are living an experience of personal searching, of silence, of overcoming, of knowing how to stay one day after another on the path. Our own Dominican charism also encourages us to contribute to spreading the Good News in new places, by being a meaningful and open presence. From this experience, we affirm that Hontanas is an evolving and changing missionary space.
▪ To offer a physical and spiritual welcome to pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
▪ To experience life together with sisters of the Congregation, lay people and/or young people and/or other religious.
Each community group that forms, taking into account the objectives of the project and the experience of the sisters who have previously participated, establishes its morning schedule and organizes the tasks proper to the community: group coordination, morning prayer, meetings or workshops, housework, economics, leisure, visits, evaluation... There is always time for personal prayer, reading, rest and/or walking.
In the afternoon, the mission of welcoming pilgrims takes place. It starts at 5 p.m., depending on the weather, as the activity takes place mainly outdoors, in the church square.
The welcome consists of offering pilgrims a free space for a foot massage (reflexology), a cold tea and a chat. From time to time, we benefit from the collaboration of a nurse friend who gives valuable advice to pilgrims. We always try to listen actively and respectfully.
At 6 p.m., pilgrims are invited to a prayer service in the church, the theme of which is water, symbolic of the Gospel passage recounting Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. We try to include the different languages spoken by the participants.
After the prayer, we continue with massages and discussions with the pilgrims, ending the afternoon with a prayer-dance blessing.
Thanks to the cooperation of the parishioners, the church is open from early morning, with music and a prayer corner where pilgrims can leave an offering, read texts (Bibles in several languages are available), or leave their impressions in the visitors’ book.
Throughout these years, the sisters have opened up to other activities, such as contact with the village youth, support for the liturgy of local parishes, visits to the elderly... Since this year, living in the village parish house has opened up new missionary possibilities.
LENGTH OF STAY
The minimum stay required to participate is one week, in order to experience the mission and life together. It can also be extended according to availability. Up to 2023, the project lasted from 7 to 15 days; now it lasts three months, from May to July.
Each participant contributes a sum of money to cover the costs of food, accommodation and transport, depending on their stay. Infrastructure and logistics costs are covered by the Spanish organization. Thanks to donations left by pilgrims, the project has been virtually self-financing.
▪ The mission at Hontanas is very enriching both for those who receive the welcome and for the sisters and/or lay people who take part. In general, an atmosphere of joy, rest and gratitude is created that fosters relationships and mission. We find that we are a presence of helping listening and spiritual support that is much appreciated by pilgrims and meets a real need.
▪ This enables us to welcome all pilgrim profiles, from those arriving with a religious motivation to those doing the Camino for other reasons. At this stage of the Camino de Santiago, we often find pilgrims who choose to walk the route alone and find that such a space enriches their pilgrimage.
▪ It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet sisters from the different countries in which we are inserted, being an international congregation, all languages and cultures are necessary in this intercultural context that is the Camino de Santiago. This also enables us to live out our vocation in a simple way in an atmosphere of shared relaxation.
▪ It’s often surprising to hear how some pilgrims read our welcome, our little help. They experience the caring, free face of God, a God who “washes feet”, who listens and goes out to meet them.
▪ This maintains a very positive dialogue with the villagers, the hosts and the priest in charge of the parish. It’s a support and a joy for them to have collaborators who give life to their village. Over the years, we have also established relationships with people from other villages, friendships with the Poor Clare sisters of Castrojeriz who have welcomed us to their monastery for years, with Nía in her house “Espacio interior”, with other priests in the region... We want to be communities with open doors and relationships.