My Walk for Emily

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My Walk for Emily

by Ricardo Gushue | Greenville, SC

Ricardo Gushue Walk with Emily Cruz de Ferro, hiker at the shrine.
Remembering Emily at the Cruz de Ferro, June 2023. Photo by a generous pilgrim.

When I walked the Camino Francés in May 2023, I met many wonderful people from all over the world, including France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, Italy, and China. Each of us walked for our own reasons. I met pilgrims who walked to search for God, to celebrate beating cancer, to honor loved ones, to escape the daily grind, and simply to exercise. I walked in memory of my 17-year-old daughter Emily, who was killed in an automobile accident in March 2022. She had wanted to walk the Camino with me. I felt her with me in spirit the entire way—from St. Jean Pied de Port, over the Pyrenees, across the Meseta, and into Santiago de Compostela. 

My journey was hard, but very rewarding. Along the Way, I met folks whose Caminos had started at their front doors and others who had been walking for months across Europe. Another person I met had walked the Camino more than 15 times. Multiple pilgrims warned me that it’s addicting and that I’d want to do it again; they were right.

One of my favorite spots along the Way was the Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross marking the highest point of the Camino Francés. There, pilgrims leave stones representing worries, concerns, or prayers for sick loved ones. I placed six stones from Emily’s family and godmother at the base of the cross in memory of her life.

I encountered pilgrims who had no shared language with those around them except for “Buen Camino.” During the last week, I met and walked with a group of priests from various countries who gave nightly Masses and blessings to all of the pilgrims. One, now a pastor in Europe, had been an underground priest in China. He told me that returning to China could lead to his imprisonment—or worse.
My arrival in the plaza in front of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral was a special moment. I had walked for 31 days and a little over 500 miles. I watched other pilgrims arriving from the four corners of the square from the different routes leading into Santiago—Camino Portugués, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo, Via de la Plata, and others. Once in the square, I witnessed pilgrims shout for joy, cry, hug each other, and even kiss the ground. I was overjoyed and thankful that Emily and I had made it to Santiago.

Ricardo Gushue walk for emily  in front of the Santiago cathedral.
Arriving in Santiago, June 2023. Photo by a generous pilgrim.

Learn more about Ricardo’s route on our Camino Francés route overview.

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