Couple making historic pilgrimage to pray for peace in Chicago

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, May 28, 2017

Moved by the violence plaguing the streets of Chicago, Tommy Burke and Jessica Santiago set out for a 1,000 mile walk as a spiritual pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) this summer. Cardinal Cupich’s Good Friday Walk for Peace in Chicago and his call to the faithful to work for peace in our city inspired the young couple from St. Andrew Parish to put their faith into action. Burke and Santiago are reaching out to family and friends to sponsor their pilgrimage. The money they raise will be invested in the unifying efforts of the Parish Peace Project in Chicago. Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic

Tommy Burke and Jessica Santiago are making their way along the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), walking 1,000 miles across France and Spain to raise awareness of and pray for an end to the violence in Chicago.

The Camino is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The traditional routes begin in France but pilgrims can start at other points and vary in the time it takes to make the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage dates back to the ninth century and the discovery of the tomb of St. James.

Burke and Santiago have been dating for seven months and are parishioners at St. Andrew Parish, 3546 N. Paulina St. At first they thought they would make the pilgrimage for the special intentions of their family. But when their plans to make the 1,000-mile trek came together, they felt they should have in their hearts prayers for a greater cause. Cardinal Cupich’s preaching for peace in the streets in Chicago inspired them.

They are using the pilgrimage to raise funds for the Parish Peace Project, a multi-parish peace-building effort that develops young-adult leaders and engages them in bringing peace to their communities using the principles of Catholic social teaching, community organizing and restorative justice. Many of the parishes are located in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood. The couple has a GoFundMe campaign for the pilgrimage (

The timing is right for the couple to make the pilgrimage. Santiago just graduated with a teaching degree from Dominican University and won’t start work until fall. Burke just left a job and has some time off.

The couple chose to begin in Le Puy-en-Velay, France, one of traditional starting points. Their journey to Santiago will have walking about 15 miles a day. They left in mid-May and expect the entire journey to last two and a half months.

Burke became interested in doing the Camino after a friend lent him a copy of Paulo Coelho’s "The Pilgrimage," which tells the story of the author’s own pilgrimage on Camino. Coelho is well-known for his novel "The Alchemist."

"I read that ["The Pilgrimage"] and didn’t give it back to him for years. I read it a couple more times and gave it back to him," Burke said.

"Camino de Santiago kind of became something where I said ‘I will do this one day,’" he said. "Like the Cubs winning the World Series one day, right?"

Faith is important in the life of both Burke and Santiago, who are also using the pilgrimage to discern a vocation to marriage.

"My faith is the center of my world," Santiago said. "I’ve been so busy student teaching that I kind of wasn’t able to go to daily Mass. I want to use this opportunity to get reconnected with God and to help him [Tommy] get reconnected with God as well."

Jesus sent his disciples out in twos, which Jessica views as symbolic of their pilgrimage.

Fernando Rayas, Parish Peace Project director, said by making this pilgrimage and using it as a way to raise funds to combat violence in the community Burke and Santiago are responding to the Gospel call to serve the poor.

"Tommy and Jessica are real people who understand their identity as Catholics. By this I mean, they are young people of faith grounded in the reality of our place, time and culture," Rayas said. "I think some of us can easily hide behind our faith and check out from the challenges affecting other people in our neighborhood and our city. They are leaders and role models for other young adults around love, reverence and devotion to the Roman Catholic Church faith and traditions."

Rayas said he hopes the couple’s pilgrimage will help build awareness of the Peace Project’s work around the city.

"I think Jessica and Tommy are great, I think they complement each other. … If you speak with Tommy, it won’t take long for you to realize that he is a young man of action and with strong convictions based on his identity as a Catholic," Rayas said. "Jessica is caring, smart and service-oriented. She views teaching as a vocation that allows her to live out her faith through her work."

To donate to the campaign, visit For more on the Camino de Santiago, visit


  • gun violence
  • pilgrimage
  • parish peace project
  • carmino de santiago

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