Pilgrim’s Progress: Neal Berry completes the Camino de Santiago for Wirral Hospice St John’s in memory of his mum Christine

Published on: 11/10/2023

The relics of the apostle, St James, are said to rest at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain and so the Camino de Santiago, Way of St James, has been a Catholic pilgrimage ever since the 9th Century. Today tourists flock from all over the world to the northern Spanish city to savour its unique, atmosphere and to take in the historical, divine for many, sights.

For others, whatever their faith background, it is the ultimate destination at the end of various ancient routes stretching for hundreds of miles, in their search for spiritual growth and many combine their quest to raise money for worthy causes.

Neal Berry (pictured left here) is a wholehearted man and as such he has smashed the challenge to raise funds for Wirral Hospice St John’s.

He resolved to take on the mammoth task of walking the French route of the Camino de Santiago, 500 miles over 30 days, early in 2023 when his mum, Christine, was confirmed to have stage four cancer and when he had fervently hoped that she might still be with us when he’d completed it.

Neal’s determination to complete the challenge became a memorial tribute to his mum as Christine had sadly passed away on the last day of June this year.

It’s been an understandably sorrowful time, mixed with many fond memories, for Neal’s family. Neal is one of four siblings and as well as all of Christine’s grandchildren and her wider family they are still all trying hard to come to terms with their sad loss.

Christine had told Neal that with everything she knew about Wirral Hospice St John’s it would have been her ideal safe haven to spend her final days. However, in the circumstances and with her condition having worsened a little more quickly than hoped, Christine died at home surrounded by her loving family.

She’d been a supporter of the hospice in a number of ways over many years, so Neal was even more determined to build on that dedicated support to accomplish the incredibly challenging journey along the Camino de Santiago for his mother and to raise funds for the hospice.

Brought up in Wirral, Neal is an electrical engineer employed within the marine industry out in the Middle East, so he navigated his work schedule to enable him to fulfil his challenge.

On an update on his Just Giving fundraising/sponsorship page Neal has recently written,

“Mum left this world surrounded by the people she cherished most, and her memory will forever inspire me. In the wake of her passing, my determination to complete the Camino de Santiago grew stronger and stronger. I felt compelled to take on the journey in her honour, as a testament to her incredible spirit and to raise as much money as possible for the hospice that meant so much to her.  I thank everyone who supported me with kind donations and those I met along the way from the bottom of my heart.”

Christine who, in her time, had spent many years caring for others and later supported children with learning difficulties and life challenges, was a caring, compassionate and loving person, and extremely close to her sisters and children.

During her final months she spent time at the Clatterbridge Centre in Liverpool and despite her frailty was able to visit the Empire Theatre during her final months with all the ladies from the family’s various generations to see a production of Dirty Dancing.

Neal tells the funny, now precious for the family,  story of a consultant arriving at her bedside and them all enthusing that Christine had been to the theatre. The consultant’s response of,

“I’ve not been told she needed theatre, what operation did she have?”,

 was met with some loud guffaws and answers of,

 No…not theatre….. THE theatre……… to see Dirty Dancing.”

 Now that’s a really lovely family memory and the consultant also took it in good heart.

Neal who keeps fit on board at sea, or when onshore, by walking 10k most days, in that searing heat of the Middle East, with an 8.5kg pack on his back as practice for his long walk was in really good shape although he did find some stretches extremely challenging.

Neal’s friends, family and a number of lovely people he met along the way have all sponsored Neal to the tune of a sensational £6,000 +.

An incredible amount for an incredible challenge! Here’s some quotes from his Just Giving page* from people he met along the way, 

 “… His spirit is contagious, and his kindness and generosity towards others was a privilege to witness. I am so proud of you for finishing.”

“Neal, your mum shall be really proud of you. You enlightened our Camino, if that could be possible, with your joy, unique light, kindness and sweetness. Eternally grateful to have met you! Keep shining.”

“I’m so glad our Camino paths crossed today. You are a beautiful soul and I bet your Mum was and is so proud of you. Buen Camino until we meet again!”

Hi Neal – huge congrats on reaching Santiago. We only crossed once along the way but you put a smile on my face and then the big bag of sweets came out! You are truly a legend!

Before he left he described his personal pilgrimage as one of love, endurance and hope and those quotes capture exactly that.

We know that all of us at the hospice, all of Neal’s supporters, family and friends, were with him every step of the way

Above all he really did do his mum, Christine, very proud. Very proud indeed! 

There’s still an opportunity to sponsor Neal for his enormous efforts at  www.justgiving.com/page/neal-berry-1686558829280