¡Buen Camino!

Dear Friends,
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My first pilgrimage experience from the French frontier with Spain to Santiago itself took place in 2003. You can read the details of this first walk along the famous Camino across Spain in my book, To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008). (You can order it from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or from your local bookseller).
In the summer and early fall of 2007, I walked from Belgium most of the way across France, with the hope of at least making it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near the Spanish border, where I began the first pilgrimage. I didn't quite make it. A bad case of plantar fasciitis took me down in the Bordeaux village of Sainte-Ferme. I continued on to Santiago by train and bus, but the "defeat of my feet" and those last 175 miles or so that were left undone, gnawed at me over the ensuing five years. Happily, I was finally able to wrap up this grand pilgrimage with a third walk from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this past summer (2012). It was a joy to have completed all 2,370 kilometers between Leuven and Santiago.
My adventures and misadventures, my thoughts and prayers of both the 2007 and 2012 pilgrimages have been shared in this blog. I will leave the blog and its archives open for some time to come; if you want to read bits and pieces of it, feel free, but remember that the beginning is at the bottom and the end is at the top.
My contact e-mail remains the same: kacodd@gmail.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
As the pilgrims in Spain greet one another, so I greet you, my reader: "Buen Camino!"
And as the people of France greet their pilgrims along the "Chemin", I also wish to you: "Courage!"

Grace and peace to you all!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just Begin!

As the days leading up to my departure draw severely down, my nervousness about the whole enterprise rises. With just three days to go, I am so behind in my preparations, I haven't even come close to finishing the job of packing up my office and apartment and putting my mountain of "stuff" up in the attic, and I have another day of hosting over one hundred of the American College's alumni. But much more daunting for me is the sheer size of this proposed adventure and my presumption and hubris in thinking this is something I might actually do. It now seems impossible and a hundred tiny voices within me are saying, "You ARE nuts! Don't do it!" "Stop while you still can! There are a million things that could go wrong and probably will go wrong! Etc." "Shut up, already!" I answer back. I know I'm an idgit for thinking I could do this, but I have no other option now. I have nothing else to do and nowhere else to go for the next four months. And beyond the noise of these aggravating voices is the memory of those days when it seemed with clarity and attractive power to be the absolutely right thing to do. I treasure that memory of surety even as I shake with self-doubt. In the midst of morning Mass yesterday, I had a moment of renewed clarity; it came to me that all that i am responsible for now is to begin. Just begin. Let the rest rest. Yes. I'll just begin and go from there. I was consoled and brought back down to earth.

So on Sunday, I will begin.

Friday and Saturday, I must finish clearing eight years of life here out of the College and pack up Gregory the Great. Saturday afternoon, I'll go get my Leuven Pilgrim stamp for my Credencial at the Sint-Jacob Parish office. Sunday morning I'll pray Laudes here in our chapel with whomever wants to join me, then walk a kilometer to the Sint-Lambertus Chapel in Heverlee for Mass in this lovely 12th century church...then make my final farewells and be on my way.

Many of our American College alumni and friends are going to be pledging a certain amount of money, whatever they want, for each mile I walk. The funds collected will go the College to continue work on our beautiful old chapel or to support a scholarship endowment fund for our seminarians. If you'd like me to carry a special intention to Big Jim, I'm happy to do that for you too. Visit the American College website for more information: AC Pilgrim.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Preliminary: Maastricht's Saint Servatius

On Wednesday of this week, I was welcomed to the beautiful city of Maastricht, about an hour's drive from Leuven. One of our College's students, Alexander de Graaf Woutering, is a priest of the Roermond Diocese that includes this city with plenty of roots going back to Roman times. Our visit was not primarily a touristic one; Father Alexander wanted me to see the wonderful Basilica of Saint Servatius ("Sint-Servaas" in Dutch) through the eyes of its pastor for almost two decades, Monsignor Matthieu Hanneman [http://www.sintservaas.nl].
Sint-Servaas was a fourth-century Armenian Christian who first traveled to Jerusalem, and then up to present-day Belgium as one of the founding "apostles" of Christianity in the region. From very early on after his death in 384 AD in Maastricht, the site of his burial was venerated by locals and eventually became a favored destination of Europe's Christian pilgrims.
Msgr. Hanneman and Alexander led me through the ancient basilica of Sint-Servaas, guiding me to a number of places not usually open to tourists. Their enthusiastic explanations and intepretations of what I was seeing allowed me to see the church's details as they see them, with love and appreciation for what they were showing to me was infectious. The highlight of the visit was being led to the burial crypt of Servaas himself beneath the floor of the nave of the basilica. There, Msgr. Henneman unlocked two wrought iron gates to allow me into the heart of the crypt. A stone sarcophogus was set within and though most of Servaas' bones were long ago scattered to many other churches in the region as relics, still here within the original tomb remain some elements of his mortal body. As this has been for many centuries one of Christian Europe's significant pilgrimage sites, I felt as I stood within the crypt that I was unexpectedly making a first stage of my own pilgrimage by joining the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims across the ages who had already visited Servaas. I set my hands upon his tomb, knelt for a moment, asked him for a bit of help along the Way that I will soon be commencing, and gave his tomb a little pat of appreciation.

These old time apostles have become special to me. Jacob/James/Jacques/Santiago did this to me: by following his Way three years ago I came to understand in a much richer way that these Old Holies are still with us and we are all brothers and sisters in the same family, one that is not bound by centuries or death. Jesus Christ took care of that. So having greeted Servaas to the east in Maastricht, I now feel ready to look south and west to Compostela and my old friend there who I presume upon to be awaiting a return visit.

On another note, I visited the orthopedist earlier today. He identified my problem as the meniscus on the inside of my right knee, probably worn and torn a bit. But if I can walk on it, he said, walk. So I shall walk, troubled meniscus or not.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Just Thirty Days...

June 1: Only thirty days until my "C-day" (see previous post) and now I am getting nervous though that edginess about the upcoming adventure is mixed with excitement and a sense of mission.
I have packed my backpack and given it a name (it was produced by a company called "Gregory" and so it has been dubbed officially "Gregory the Great" (non-church types will have to Google the name to learn more here). My boots are fitting great these days; I took a risk and spent a lot of money on this Meindle brand out of Bavaria, but it was worth the investment because they now fit like gloves...and feel like gloves on my feet. I've been to the doc and he says my cholesteral is perfect (with the help of a pill), my blood pressure is right where it should be (with the help of a pill), and my heart is ticking the way it was designed to tick (with the help of several pills).
There is just one problem: I've developed a hitch in my right knee that has become rather painful at times, while at other times it is barely noticeable. The fickleness of it is what bugs me most. Some are telling me that I'm finally feeling the dark side of 35 years of jogging. Maybe. I go in to see the orthopedist down the street later this coming week; then I guess I'll know. I went out yesterday for a two hour hike with my pack loaded to 25 pounds and as the walk progressed through the soft and green Egenhoven Woods the knee got better and better so that is a hopeful sign. I'm looking for hopeful signs, of course, because I do not intend to let this knee keep me from my pilgrim mission...and it now truly feels like a mission. I MUST go! I'm being drawn, called, pulled, jerked onto this road. If Santiago wants me back, then he will have to take care of me along the way. I'm trusting this one to him. I feel like I know him, having done this once before (though, admittedly, on a much smaller scale).
I'm also deep into the process of letting go of my world here in Louvain. It is not so easy and my patience is thinning even as my focus on daily tasks and responsibilities gets more diffuse. "Authority" here is running through my fingers like sand. So I'm doing my best to ride this last month as it comes and not take the daily problems or upsets or demands too seriously. This parting is a sweet sorrow and one I'm trying to savor even as I wish it were already over. Am I counting down the days? Look at the title of this post: of course I am! I can't wait to begin my new pilgrim life though in the end it will not be so different from my present and past life since I remain who I am here or there. Pilgrims don't escape...they just walk more freely for awhile.
Grace and peace!