Endowment & Planned Giving Program Manager, Catholic Community Foundation of Santa Clara County
A couple of months ago, I met with one of our donors over lunch. I had been looking forward to getting together with her to hear about her pilgrimage experience walking El Camino de Santiago in Spain. She walked me through an amazing slide show, sharing details about her journey with such excitement that, at times, I felt that I was there walking with her.
Interestingly, I learned that there are many “caminos,” or paths, to Santiago de Compostela. At least nine main Caminos are considered official routes and there are many other secondary routes that lead to the main Caminos. She shared how she walked with pilgrims from all over the world and how fascinating each of their stories was. People begin at different starting points across Europe, they all have their own reasons for walking, yet the common bond shared by all pilgrims is they are all heading towards the same destination.
Going through the pictures, it was hard not to notice the presence of a distinctive symbol: the scallop shell. It is the symbol of the pilgrim, she told me, and you can see it everywhere from churches and distance markers to traffic signs and backpacks. Some local residents even decorate their gardens and houses with shells in solidarity with the pilgrims. They say that the scallop shell represents the converging of people from all over the world. Its lines symbolize the different routes pilgrims travel, all leading to one point at the base of the shell: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. Being a visual person, I knew that I would never look at a scallop shell in the same way again.
A few weeks after our lunch, I was in the office printing certificates to be signed by the Bishop. These were not ordinary certificates. They represented a heartfelt thank you and recognition for the first 25 parishioners that became members of the Society of Saint Joseph — the newly established legacy society that recognizes those who have taken their stewardship one step further by including a gift to support the Church in their estate plans.
As I held these certificates in my hands, a question entered my mind: Is there a pattern here? Are these people alike in some way? A quick look at the records left me scratching my head. Some of them were elderly, some were younger, some were single, some were married, some were clergy, some were lay people, some were men, some were women, some were from parishes in the east side, some were from parishes in the west, but ALL were planning to leave a legacy of support for a parish, school or ministry that was important in their life.
The scallop shell, I thought. These faithful couldn’t be more different from each other, the routes of their faith journeys must have been different as well; and yet they were somehow all bound together by tremendous hope in the future of our Catholic faith and a desire to support the Church beyond their lifetime.
What started as a routine office task, turned into an opportunity for reflection and prayer. That day I prayed for each of these new Founding members of the Society of Saint Joseph. I also prayed for many more Catholics to be inspired to follow their steps so that we could leave for the next generation the resources to continue to build, and in many ways, rebuild the Church that has guided us through our own “camino” of sorts, our own faith journey.