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I am considering taking a pilgrim's path - Olaf's Trail - in Norway (about 3 weeks). However, I don't want to do it for any religious reasons. I just saw this trail in pictures and thought: "What a great hike!".

Would it be offensive towards the pilgrims or the Catholic religion in general to "just hike" on this trail without religious motives?

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    I'm quite sure that it isn't a problem at all. – gerrit May 4 '16 at 10:20
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    Not being a sacrament of the Catholic Church, pilgrimages are open to all, regardless of faith or intention, just keep in mind that for some this is a spiritual walk and act accordingly to pilgrims you encounter.. – Ken Graham May 4 '16 at 11:42
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    As catholic, even if not practicing, the only think I have to say about it is "have fun!" And if someone would complain just tell them you are enjoying God's nature, as Saint Francis of Assisi taught. They wont bug you anymore. – Erik vanDoren May 4 '16 at 14:05
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No, it would not be offensive.

A survey of 200 pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago found that motivations were as follows, in order of importance:

  1. Exercise
  2. Adventure
  3. Peace, solitude, relaxation
  4. Spiritual (but not explicitly religious)
  5. A lifetime experience
  6. A religious pilgrimage (9.6%)
  7. To meet people.

Source: Top reasons why people walk the Camino

As you can see, under 10% viewed their walk as a religious pilgrimage, and this is on a route between two Catholic countries. In a country like Norway with only 5% of Catholics I would imagine that the percentage of religious pilgrims would be smaller still. So as a non-religious walker you would be very much in the majority.

Is this use of these old pilgrimage routes offensive to the minority who still use them for religious reasons? I know people who have completed the Camino and have read many accounts - I've never seen it even hinted that this was an issue. Provided you are sensitive to the feelings of the pilgrims you can be comfortable that no-one will object. And as Ken Graham has pointed out in his comment, pilgrimages are not a sacrament of the Catholic Church and are open to all.

So it would be perfectly appropriate to walk the route to simply enjoy the country and the experience. I hope you have a great time!


Historical note

If you've ever read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales you'll know that motivations for pilgrimage have always been varied. In the regimented medieval world, this might be your only opportunity for a holiday and an adventure. As with the modern holiday industry there were package tours, guidebooks and accommodation touts.

I found the following account of the atmosphere around shrines like St Olav's and Santiago de Compostella:

At the sanctuary itself, particularly the famous ones, pilgrims would be met by a large noisy crowd. In a city like Trondheim, where many pilgrims wandered to visit the grave of St. Olav, there were many people making money from the pilgrims. Amongst the fellow pilgrims, there would be buskers and entertainers, market stalls and pickpockets, beggars and prostitutes. There were primitive postcards and souvenir pilgrim-badges to buy from licensed traders. Pilgrims showed particular interest in the exotic products, spices, wines and silks, not available at home. Many pilgrims also indulged in a little bit of 'duty free', hiding their purchases from the customs men or bribing the appropriate officials to turn a blind eye.

Inside the sanctuary, things were little quieter. As the day progressed, crowds grew and the wine flowed freely. At Santiago de Compostella, the priests despaired that 'all sorts of noises and languages can be heard together, discordant shouts, barbarous singing in German, English, Greek and every other language under the sun'. (Sumption: 213) The behaviour was such that many sanctuaries, such as Durham in England, employed the equivalent of 'bouncers' to keep order and eject those who behaviour was considered too 'rude'.

If anything, the non-religious hikers of today are more respectful than the religious pilgrims of the past!

Source: Why did people go on pilgrimages?

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    Sorry for that silly comment but this answer is awesome! :) – OddDeer May 4 '16 at 10:56
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    That page also states that 0.21% of 200 pilgrims were motivated by a personal challenge. That would be less than 0.5 pilgrims, so there's something odd with the survey. – gerrit May 4 '16 at 13:54
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    @gerrit Perhaps the survey was along the lines of "Are you motivated by X?" with boxes to tick for "Yes, strongly", "Yes, somewhat", "Kinda", "Not much" and "not at all", with the different possibilities receiving different weights. – David Richerby May 4 '16 at 17:48
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    @Lan Hmm - perhaps you are being over-logical here? Offence is mainly a question of social norms. If something is the norm and no-one objects to it, I would say it's not offensive. I know people who've done the Camino, and read a number of accounts. I've never come across any report that anyone found it offensive to be sharing the route with other people without religious convictions. If you went out of your way to desecrate shrines along the way, that would be offensive for sure. If you behave respectfully, I don't think anyone is going to object to your doing the route. – Tullochgorum May 4 '16 at 19:18
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    And there's nothing new in going on pilgrimage for fun. In the medieval world, it was often your only hope for a holiday - see Chaucer's Tales. A historian writes of the Olaf pilgrimage: "Amongst the pilgrims ... there would be buskers and entertainers, market stalls and pickpockets, beggars and prostitutes. ... Pilgrims showed particular interest in the exotic spices, wines and silks ... Many pilgrims indulged in a bit of 'duty free' ... bribing the appropriate officials to turn a blind eye". Many sites had to employ bouncers. If anything, people are more respectful now than they were then! – Tullochgorum May 4 '16 at 19:30
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There is a fair argument that the general experience of hiking is part of the religious experience of a pilgrimage , for example, solitude, relaxtion , physical exercise and exploring the natural world. So it would seem unreasonable for anybody to take offense that you want to experience those things from a secular rather than religious perspective.

The only possible exception is if a particular route is so congested that you are competing with people who have a specific religious reason to do it although in his case it probable isn't that attractive to you anyway.

There may also be certain religious sites or calendar festivals which are restricted to adherents of a particular religion more or less formally. The Haag pilgrimage to Mecca is an obvious example but most religions are fairly welcoming to other denominations or non religions people who are generally respectful (as any hiker should be anyway).

Also if you are travelling in a strongly religious area is is basic politeness to pay at least basic respect to the local customs within the scope of your own conscience. So you may want to research exactly what that might entail and whether it would involve condoning practices that you are uncomfortable with.

Similarly some religiously conservative communities may not be tolerant of certain races, religions, nationalities or sexualities etc so do your research and make your own decision there.

Having said all of that Norway is one of the most secular and liberal countries on earth so as long as you observe basic courtesy to others and respect the local laws there is no way you will encounter any problems.

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The main reason for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is to experience something different. Doesn't matter what moves you - outdoors love, passion, faith, adventure, boredom... Whatever it is everyone is opened to meet new people and share adventures together.

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