¡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!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Fisterre, Finisterre, or “The End of the Earth”; it is here that I write today. I sit on a rocky outcropping next to a granite cross, at the very end of this Cabo de Finisterre, under the Faro or lighthouse that guides seamen around its rough sholes. I have jauntily walked the 2.5 kilometers from town to this end of the earth. The sun is shining brightly, the sky is blue above but increasingly white as it recedes to the misty horizon at the far end of the sea. The shine of the sun glistens silver off the surface of the sea, itself rippled and dippled by the lightest of breezes. It is just about perfect.

On the pillars of two steel towers all manner of pilgrim clothing have been strung and they flap dirtily in the breeze. On the arms and ledges of the granite cross small stones hold down folded pieces of paper with prayers and hopes and words of gratitude hastily scribbled on them. I have no pen with me but I must do something too, so I take my handkerchief, the one that has been in my back pocket for all these days on the road, the one embroidered with a fancy “R” for “Robert”, for this old rag once was my dad’s best handkerchief, which somehow I inherited, and I set it under a stone too, just above an almost hidden carving of Santiago in the base of the cross. There, I’ve done it. I’ve finished this pilgrimage. I’ve reached the geographical end of Europe, the end of the earth for previous generations who did not yet know of America.

I gaze out to the perfect line of the horizon- next stop: America. And I’ve reached the end of this particular pilgrimage of heart and spirit, too. Goodbye, dear road. Tot later, wonderful Weg. Au revoir, beautiful Chemin. Adios, gracious Camino. Thank you. Dank U, Merci, Gracias. My eyes well, I suppose for the last time out here. I hope I will be back someday not too far off. If not, I have already been plenty changed and much enriched, and so humbled and will always be more grateful than any words can express. I love this earth. I love its Creator. I love my brother and Lord Jesus, I love Big Jim. I love all those who have been so good to me and have accompanied me along the way on foot and in spirit.

I end the geographical part of this pilgrimage here at Fisterre and I now end this blog here, too. The greater pilgrimage of life continues, of course, and I am now ready for whatever is next. May we all be blessed on our way.

St. James, pray for us!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Santiago, Day 5

Today was an "alone day" in Santiago: no friends, no guides, just me and the great company of saints who cheer us on from their side of the Kingdom of God. It has been most probably also my final full day in this city. I did my best to make the most of it in my own way and according to my own speed and tempo, just like the camino itself. I got business out of the way first by finding an orthopedic store and asking about a soft foot brace that is used during the night to stretch those aching foot tendons and thereby, hopefully, heal them. The man at the desk professionally dressed in a clean white smock had never heard of such a thing and offered me some silicon insoles instead. I didn´t buy them. I then walked across the street to a peluqueria and got my hair cut, a sort of contemporary living of the medieval custom of pilgrims burning their clothes as a sign of leaving behind their old lives and beginning a new one. The young lady behind the sheers took plenty off; my gray mop was everywhere when she was done. I felt rather like a shorn sheep; I don´t think my hair has been this short since I was a 11 year old on summer vacation. But the feeling of letting go of the old and looking forward with hope towards what is to come was real enough as I headed back up the hill towards the Cathedral of Santiago. I was there just in time for the noon pilgrim Mass, tucked into a pew and joined in the liturgy from the pilgrim side of the sanctuary. The aged priest who presided stepped forward after the Gospel reading and gave a stem-winder of a homily and it was good; who would have guessed he had so much passion in him! It lifted my spirits to watch him and listen to him preach the Good News with enthusiasm and fire. Afterwards, I stayed in the church for awhile, then after the crowds thinned, (to go to lunch, I suppose), I stepped back down into the crypt for a brief visit at Santiago´s relics. Then to lunch myself, a little rest in my room and back into town to visit a couple of museums before going back to the Cathedral for a more prolonged and serious visit. The crowds were pretty heavy since several tour groups had pulled in not long before I got there so I took my place in the area of the nave reserved for personal prayer (sort of) and just took a long time before the image of Santiago above the main altar, the one the pilgrims embrace from behind upon their arrival. Once again I thanked him for bringing me here and getting me as far as I got, for the blessings on the way, for keeping me from any real harm, and once again, I mentally read through my litany of intentions, all the people who have asked for prayers here. After a while, I decided it was time to fulfill one final pilgrim responsibility before leaving this special place. I pulled out of my synthetic wallet (what else but synthetic!) the cards and notes people back home had given me way back in the end of June just before I started walking, each with their own special intentions and prayers written on them. I had carried these little pieces of paper across more than a thousand two hundred kilometers on my back, then another thousand-five hundred by train and bus, and finally, again by foot, just a final kilometer or so from my hostel to the heart of this basilica. I read through each one of them again, kept them in my hand as I got up, walked over to the stairwell going up to the stature of Santiago, climbed the stairs, gave Santiago one more abrazo making sure the papers in my hand touched him, walked back down and down even further into the crypt, read them to him there again, then looked about for a discrete place to deposit them, as close to Santiago as I could get. I wandered around behind the altar keeping my eye open for some crack or chink or hidden little hole in the wall where I might set them, then directly behind the main altar and almost directly above the tomb, I noticed a large glass window separating the ambulatory of the apse from the back of the altar with a marble ledge beneath it on both sides of the glass. In the glass was cut a small opening just big enough for a hand to pass through, so with no one looking, I kissed them, slipped the cards and papers through that hole and tucked them into a corner where they would not be quite so easily seen. There, that job now done! I felt rather proud of myself for my cleverness and even more, I felt relieved at having delivered on the promise to bring those prayers to Santiago where he can attend to them from here on in.
So that´s been my day. I´m just about ready to move on from Santiago and the Field of Stars, but even as I do so I´m thinking about next spring when my feet and tendons will be all well again and before I have to be back home for good; hmmm... how about finishing this thing then, in the way I had intended, by walking from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, and then across Spain and back to Santiago. Anyone want to go along?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Santiago, Day 4

"Day 4": already? Have I been here in Santiago that long? Long enough for this place that has captured my imagination for so very long begins to seem more ordinary and more like any other place even as the many more days trundling across Belgium and France take on a bit of a dreamlike status as well. I don´t really like the sense that Santiago de Compostela should begin to feel ordinary to me; I rather want it to remain a hope, a dream, a sacred place in my life. When that feeling gets too strong, I dip back into the Cathedral, wander about within its dark and cool interior, step down into the crypt where James´bones are kept in a silver reliquary, and there return to the base and reason for it all. Asking him to care for my family, my friends, our Louvain seminarians, those who have cared for me along the way, that brings me altogether back to the sense of being in a place out of time and beyond ordinary space, a holy site, a set of bones that draw us from such far away places to them mysteriously.
My appreciation for that crypt and the basilica built on top of it grew appreciably today during a personal tour of the Cathedral Museum given to me by Father Alejandro Barral, its founder and retired director. That crypt goes back to Roman times, the first century perhaps; on display where bits and pieces of pottery, glass, and even a stone button used to weave wool into thread, all testifying to its ancient past. If an apostle of Jesus were to be buried anywhere this would be it. The evidence that significant Christian cult on the site goes back into the very early centuries is also there. Those early Iberian Christians were paying attention to someone very special there from very early on. No one can prove it was the apostle James, but Christian writers were mentioning him and Spain together from way back as well.
The other thing that fascinated me was Don Alejandro´s description of the stone choir that originally stood within the nave of the basilica, it was a great work of art designed and executed by the third great architect of the basilica, Master Mateo. A segment of it has been re-erected in the Museum and it is spectacular, especially when its details and the spirituality behind them are described lovingly by someone who knows the place like his own child. That choir, an enclosed place within the church where the canons of the cathedral sang the daily office of psalms and readings, was designed to represent the New Jerusalem that is our Earth when it reaches its fullness in peace, justice and life under the loving hand of it Creator, the Father of All, through the saving grace of his Son and the refreshing breath of his Spirit. I love that image from Revelations/Apocalypse; "all will be well and all will be well" it reminds us (in the words of Julian of Norwich).
So it is that image along with that of Santiago´s crypt that I take to bed with me tonight. Sleep well for all will be well and all will be well...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Santiago, Day 3

This Sunday in Santiago de Compostela held its fair share of little adventures, the most exciting of which was taking part in a tour of the rooftop of the Cathedral of Santiago. No slate or clay tiles up there, its all granite blocks set in place in gentle slopes that are walkable but gave me the heebie-jeepbies anyway. But what a view, not just of the city below, but of the towers and the bells and the famous statue of Santiago that looks out over the plaza in front of the Cathedral doors where the pilgrims arrive daily in their ones and twos and twenties. The view of this statue ensconced securely in his niche, from behind and almost from eye-level was a thrill for me. That statue has been a favorite of mine since four years ago when after completing my first pilgrimage to Compostela, I had a long talk with him, I down below on the plaza, he up high almost touching the sky (that conversation is included in my book on the pilgrimage which will be published by Wm. Eerdmans & Co. soon; look for it in your favorite bookstore after the new year! Sorry for the advertisement here!).
Less of a diversion and more important for me today was participating for the second time in the noon Mass for Pilgrims. Unlike yesterday, I was not distracted by the silliness of a unawarded certificate, but felt much more a part of the liturgical celebration even from before it began. While in the sacristy waiting to process in, I was invited to offer one of the General Intercessions in English during the coming liturgy. My impromptu prayer was simple: "For kings, prime ministers and presidents of powerful nations, that they might be wise in the exercise of their authority, forgoe the tools of war and oppression and follow the Way of justice and peace for all who live on this earth." Later, because I was one of the first concelebrating priests to receive communion, I was given a ciborium filled with the consecrated bread of holy communion to distribute to the congregation. I took up a position in the transept and began one by one, to share the Body of Christ with the Body of Christ: "Cuerpo de Cristo... Cuerpo de Cristo... Cuerpo de Cristo..." "Amen, amen, amen...," came back the responses from the people before me: "So be it... Yes... I believe..." For awhile I had shivers going up and down my spine with the sheer beauty and grace of this simple and true mystery that I cannot help but love.
Later, up on the Cathedral roof, a family from Grenoble recognized me and asked if I was the priest who gave them communion today. I said I must have been. We then visited and took pictures of one another up on those slanty stone heights, suddenly we were friends and fellow pilgrims bound together in communion with one another for having walked (mostly) to the same place from very different directions.
After the liturgy, I said goodbye to Edmon who was on his way to the bus station to get a ride out to Finisterre, the "End of the World" in medieval times since it is the furthest point west of the European continent (or so I am told). Tradition has it that pilgrims burned their pilgrim clothes there to mark the end of their pilgrimage and their old life and the beginning of a new life renewed and purified in faith and love by their months on the Way. I was told by our rooftop guide that many ( presumably those that didn´t go on to Finisterre) did the same thing on the Cathedral rooftop at the spot exactly above the main altar and the tomb of Santiago, a spot now marked by a green bronze cross set atop a stone image of the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God.
After Edmon´s departure, Toni and I met again, he having driven back up from his home in Ourense, about an hour away. We had an important invitation to attend to. Father Alejandro Barral, the retired director of the Cathedral Museum and a relative of a friend by marriage, invited us to lunch and an entertaining and energetic afternoon of talk about the Cathedral, Santiago and the historicity of the tradition of his burial here. Most people disregard the tradition as clearly unfactual, but Don Alejandro held out the possibility that there might be some historical truth in the old story; the attestations from ancient sources go back way beyond the 9th century when the saint´s relics were "rediscovered" and the archeological evidence shows that the site under the Cathedral altar was an ancient Roman cemetary, and that there was a Christian cult there of significant importance from very early on. He made a pretty convincing case for at least holding out the possibility that Big Jim´s bones really might have found their way from 1st century Palestine to this remote corner of Galicia. Anyway, it was great fun sitting at the feet of one of Compostela´s most learned experts in the history of Santiago and his cult through the ages. He is the one who got us into the tour of the Cathedral rooftop, by the way!
Toni and I passed the rest of the evening talking church and religion over a couple of beers in a tapas bar. Then it was back "home" to my hostal and now its almost time for bed. I plan to stay here another day or two, then see a few things more, perhaps going on to Finisterre myself before the week is out. On Friday, I´ll head down to Ourense to spend the weekend with Toni and his family.

Santiago, Day 2

This morning, Saturday, I began my first full pilgrim day in Santiago by heading down to the Cathedral office for pilgrims, the place where we pilgrims display proudly our "Credencial," or pilgrim passport with the seals in it of all the places we have passed through on our Way, and receive then an official certificate of completion called simply, the "Compostela." I walked through the great old doorway, headed up the old staircase and into the wide office with happy expectation of fulfilling this official act of recognition with a certain satisfaction and even joy. I announced myself, displayed proudly my Credencial, and handed it over to the nice lady behind the desk. She looked at it, noticed that the closest Spanish towns and villages were not on it, so I cheerily explained that I had begun my pilgrimage in Belgium and walked most of the way across France, just 200 kms shy of Saint Jean Pied de Port, when my foot gave out and I had to come the rest of the way by train and bus. She responded,¨"I´m sorry, Señor, I can´t give you the Compestela because you did not walk the FINAL 100 kilometers into Santiago." I was a bit stunned but surely she would relent and so protested, "But I WALKED more thatn 1,000 kilometers, there are the seals, surely THAT has to qualify me as a pilgrim!" She was unbending, "Lo siento, pero NO. The rules of the Cathedral are very strict." A weary pilgrim had come in after me. He interjected himself into the miserable situation by saying to me, "Don´t worry. You know what you did. You are a pilgrim in your heart and you don´t need a piece of paper to prove it." His words were a sort of "Go in peace!" to me, like at the end of the Eucharist. So out the door I went, remembering as best I could that pilgrims always are grateful, so I said "Gracias" as I left the office, headed down the old staircase and outside into the fresh air of this Saturday morning.
The disappointment of that event hung with me, even with the kind and true words of the other pilgrim also finding a resting place in my mind and heart. One bitter thought occurred to me, "Well, I guess I just won´t go to the noon Pilgrim Mass today if I am not a pilgrim for these people." I spit it out almost as quickly as I thought it and wandered about until 11:30 or so, then went into the Cathedral, which was already filling up with tourists and pilgrims and filling the Cathedral air with an excited buzz of whispered conversations and prayers. I made my way over to the sacristy on the other side of the nave and found a nun sitting at a desk. After my previous "rejection" I was prepared for this meeting, I had my official "priest papers" with me from my diocese documenting my status as a bona fide priest in good standing...that I CAN prove! When I asked to concelebrate the coming liturgy, she just said, "Be here at 11:45." "Do you need to see my documentation?" "Oh no; just be here." So I went back into the nave and took up a standing position near a vast stone column to take some quiet time before returning to the sacristy in a quarter hour.
So there I was, just leaning up against my pillar of stone, taking in the scene, talking to Santiago about everything, when who should walk in front of me, no more than two meters away, but our seminarian from the American College, Edmon, who began his own pilgrimage to Compostela the prevous month. At first, it seemed too good to be true so I took a second look, recognized the sky blue hiking shirt I had given him back in August, then saw him smile at someone he recognized and KNEW it was our Edmon! I called to him. He didn´t hear me above the din of the crowd. I called again louder, he turned towards me and spotted me and we both walked around to the more empty aisle to the right of the nave and there gave one another a hearty and heartfelt pilgrim abrazo. Gosh, he looked good: happy and tan and brimming with happiness. He, too, had done it: he had walked to Compostela! I told him I was very proud of him and asked about his plans. He had been intending to leave by bus after the Mass for Finisterre (the medieval "End of the World"), as many of the pilgrims do, but he changed his mind and decided then to spend the day with me and Toni. We agreed to meet after the Pilgrim Mass at the "0 kilometer" stone in the middle of the plaza in front of the Cathedral, and with that, I returned to the sacristy to vest for the liturgy.
The Pilgrim Mass was well done and the prayerfulness of the several thousand people within the Cathedral was impressive; what a collection of humanity: young, old, infirm, healthy, women, men, white, brown, dirty, scrubbed . . . here is the Body of Christ in all its splendor!
There was among the priest concelebrants one other English speaker, a priest named Robert from somewhere in England. After the liturgy (and the swinging of the great censor like a silver clad trapeze artist!), I introduced myself to him in the sacristy, then on an impulse, saw my opportunity to fulfill one further pilgrim obligation, go to Confession. So I asked him then if he´d take a moment from his own pilgrim group with whom he had been walking, to celebrate the sacrament with me. He agreed and so we found a quiet place in the courtyard just beyond the sacristy and so I began. I confessed my pride on the way, sometimes feeling better than other pilgrims who were having a harder time than I was, my bit of jealousy of those who were having an easier time than I was, and most of all, my failure to make the most of this opportunity to show forth the Way of Christ to those I met, to proclaim in some way or other the nearness of the Kingdom to us all. At about this point, something triggered in me the interior faucet that had already let go once, my eyes filled and my voice choked and I started crying again. How embarrassing! But what a relief! He put his hand on my shoulder and offered me his prayer of absolution, and then after I had gotten control of myself more or less back, we returned to the sacristy, chatted a bit more about our lives and work, then went our separate ways, me still wiping the damp from my eyes as I took one more moment in front of Santiago to kneel and thank him, then walked out the great doors to the sunny plaza outside to meet up with Edmon, and a bit later, Toni, again.
A while later, Edmon, Toni and I enjoyed a massive Spanish mid-day meal, then walked about the city and out through the great gardens beyond the old center of town, snapped a few photos, took a while to lay about on a grassy area next to a gurgling creek in the late afternoon sunshine, then had a beer and some "tapas" and the day was pretty much done. Toni returned by car to Orense, his home, and Edmon and I to our Hostel LaSalle for the night. Another pilgrim day, even without a certificate to prove it!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Santiago de Compostela

Well, today, I reached the Field of Stars, not quite the way I expected, but good enough. My big day actually began last night. After crawling into bed in my Santander pension room, I put on my iPod earphones with the simple desire to listen one more time to one of my favorite hymns over these past months, Fernando Ortega's simple and moving "Grace and Peace", which meditatively sings the opening words to Saint Paul´s Letter to the Thessalonians. Even as the first chords of the guitar and his gentle voice began to sing the words, "Grace and peace to you, from God, our Father..." I found myself choking up, not just choking up, but weeping, and weeping uncontrolably. The walls of the pension were very thin and I was afraid people in the next room or down the hall would hear me so I wrapped my face inside my sheets and blankets to muffle the sound of my gasping and gulping of air. It wouldn´t stop. This is crazy, I said to myself, sort of out of myself. But out it all came: the mourning of an adventure ending too soon, the gratitude for all that has been, the joy, the beauty, the loss, the gain, the grace of it all, out it all came for perhaps ten minutes, and then, after a couple final sniffles, it was over, and to peaceful sleep I went.
I had to get up early this morning to catch the 7:15 bus to Santiago de Compostela, a ride that would take eight hours, with only stops in a few bigger cities to load and unload passengers. I had a small bottle of water and the bus provided a few snacks to nibble on as the hours passed. I watched the countryside go by, including some spectacular views of the seacoast, alternated bettween reading my "light" book, Bill Bryson's Thunderbolkt Kid and listening to my heavier book on the iPod, Paul Elie's The Life You Save May be Your Own. In the final hour, I just dozed and imagined Compostela and tried to prepare myself interiorly for the hours and days to come.
Even as I stepped off the bus in the Compostela station, my great friend, Toni, was there to meet me and give me a welcoming Galician abrazo, or embrace. I introduced Gregory the Great to Toni, then unceremoniosly threw him into the back end of Toni´s Peugeot. Toni drove me first up to the Monte de Gozo, the Mount of Joy, to see the city and the Cathedral in the distance, the Monte de Gozo is where pilgrims for centuries have caught their first glimpse of their long-awaited goal, their dream, and were filled with joy at the sight, hence the name. He and I and other friends had been there before, four years ago when I first walked the Camino across Spain and it felt good to be back. It was a clearer view today. We then drove a short ways, stopped for a hearty lunch (pork chops for me), then leaving the car, walked together the final two kilometers into the center of Santiago and the Cathedral. My bishop phoned from Rome just as I was arriving at the Cathedral to wish me well. Perfect timing, Bishop Skylstad! Thank you!
We then went inside the Cathedral, and there I climbed the stairs behind the main altar to give the great silver-clad bust of Santiago the traditional pilgrim abrazo, then went under the altar to the relics of Saint James and said my first prayers for all those I had promised to pray for over these many months. After dawdling in the Cathedral a while, Toni and I went to find lodging for myself, with the help of his Salesian friend, I got a room at the Hostal LaSalle, part of a Catholic school complex just a few blocks from the center of town.
One extra pilgrim event in the day: while on the Monte de Gozo, a newly arrived pilgrim asked Toni to take his picture standing in front of the great sculpture dedicated to Pope John Paul II that now dominates the Monte hilltop. As we walked together back down the hill, I asked him if in his travels he had come upon a Filipino pilgrim by the name of Edmon, (one of our American College seminarians who has been on the Spanish Camino since mid-September. He said, to my great surprise, that indeed he had spent several days walking with Edmon and that he should be in Santiago already. I was thrilled with the possible opportunity to share a bit of these days with one of our own sems and have tried to make contact with him, but as of this moment, we have yet to connect. Maybe tomorrow.
So now it is bedtime again. Tomorrow I will check in at the Pilgrim office and get my official certificate, the "Compostela", then go to the pilgrim Mass at noon in the Cathedral; hopefully, I still look enough like a priest that they will let me concelebrate. Toni will return for the afternoon and evening together and we'll just have to see what more happens in this beautiful, holy, long-dreamt-of city.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Santander, Day 2

Today is the feast of Saint Luke, Evangelist and Apostle. I just returned from Mass at the Cathedral here in Santander (where I also got my passport stamped one last time!) and the Gospel reading was particularly poignant to me; Jesus sends the disciples out two by two ordering them, among other things, to bless each house that receives them with peace and to accept graciously whatever is set before them by those who welcome them in. Of course, they are also to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God is near. I hope, I hope, I so deeply hope, that in some way I have followed those commands over the past months on the Way. I certainly haven´t lived as free of 'stuff' as the first apostles did, I carried more than 30 pounds/14 kilos of personal possessions on my back, but I have tried to be kind to all, greet peaceably those I have met, be grateful for every kindness extended to me, especially gestures of hospitality, and in some small way, preach and teach in word and deed that the Kingdom of God is not far from any of us. I certainly have felt the closeness of that Kingdom throughout these 70-plus days on the road, in the many people I have met and befriended, in the blessings of nature, in the solitude and prayer. I am and will always be profoundly grateful and humble as the Way continues in my life, wherever it leads.
Tomorrow, I catch an early bus out of Santander and seven hours later will roll into Santiago de Compostela. I will meet up with my great friend from my first pilgrimage four years ago, Toni, and we will eat, drink, tell a few stories, then, as pilgrims have been doing for 1000 years, I will ascend the great altar of the Basilica of Santiago and embrace his statue there, and more importantly, I will then descend below the main altar to his bones and say there my prayers for all who have accompanied me on my way, my family, friends, seminarians, brother priests, diocese, and all the good people who have taken me in and cared for me over these months or asked me to remember them when I finally got to Santiago. Most of all, I will thank James, Jacques, Santiago, Jacobus, for the privilege of being one of his pilgrims during this life.
Well, I'm finally getting to Santiago, not quite the way I had hoped, but good enough. I intend to hang around and help out in some way at least for a few days, so I expect pilgrim adventures will continue and I will continue to share them on this blog as they unfold. Pilgrim grace doesn´t stop rolling through our lives just because we stop walking, that´s a lesson I'm learning now.
So, on this feast of Saint Luke, I say to you all, Peace be on you and your house!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I feel a bit more like a tourist today than a pilgrim. After a morning coffee in a small café in San Sebastian, I and ever-faithful Gregory the Great headed down the street to the local bus station. The plan: to head to Bilbao, about an hour away to see the Guggenheim Museum of Art, the first of architect Frank Gehry’s titanium buildings that have so captured the imagination of the world.
Upon seeing it with my own eyes and then listening to the audio description of it I was really quite impressed with the building, though not as surprised as I might have been if I had not already seen other Gehry buildings in the same style elsewhere. The building trumps the collection it holds; much of the contemporary art left me unmoved and uninspired, but a few pieces did intrigue and even delight me, like a series of rusty barrels I walked through, intricately designed like a series of strange mazes.
From Bilbao I caught another bus to Santander, still on the coast, where I am spending two nights so that I can take time tomorrow to try to visit some nearby caves with their wonderful paintings by primitive people who lived here many thousands of years ago. (It’s not clear which ones I might eventually get to see; the most famous caves, at Altamira, near Santillana del Mar, seem now to be closed to the public. The ones at Puente Viesgo apparently are open. Hopefully this will all become a bit clearer tomorrow!).
I arrived in Santander about 6:00 pm so I had some time to walk through the streets of the city before the rain began to fall; in the sidewalks were the Compostela shell and arrow indicating the direction of the northern route. I walked it for only a couple of blocks, but enough to feel like I had walked it – at least a little. Riding through the mountainous country between San Sebastian and Bilbao on the bus I was rather happy I wasn’t having to conquer those ups and downs; they were much tougher than those of France.
In spite of that hesitation and even if I am indulging in a bit of tourism I am trying to keep my pilgrim attitude and values in place as I roll along towards Compostela. That holy city is still my goal and I look forward to praying there with the multitude of pilgrims who have done so over the last 1000 years and continue to do so in their thousands.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

San Sebastian, Spain

As I write, I sit on the stone porch of the Cathedral of San Sebastian, a world that seems a million miles from the small towns and countryside of the French “Chemin”. This place is brimming with life, and I have not seen so many children at play in ages. Paloma, a little 5 year old, just made friends with me, asking me all kinds of important questions, like:”What are the names of your mama and papa?…Oh, Cecilia is just like my tia Cecilia!”.
It is a nice balance to a difficult morning. Once I got onto the train in Bordeaux, I entered into that strange anonymity and invincible strangerhood that so many of us westerners impose on ourselves when we travel: minimal eye contact, conversation, or engagement with the other, as if none of us exists to the others. It reinforced my sense of leaving not just France, but a whole world of pilgrims and hospitaliers and cheery “Bonjour, monsieur’s!” and “Bon courage’s”. I especially felt alienated from the non-alienation of the pilgrim life as my train slowly nudged its way across the Spanish frontier and into Irun. As I looked at the dismal train station I almost felt like asking the Lord to send one of his angels to grab me by the hair and drop me back into Saint-Ferme, so I could be again a pilgrim as before.
I caught the much smaller train into nearby San Sebastian, and found myself walking into a beautiful city, filled with life.
I was feeling hungry, so I stopped at a sidewalk café, but got restless about finding a place to stay for the night as I sat there waiting to be waited on for a half hour or so. Feeling still quite “culture shocked” inside, I got up, walked down a street, any street, saw a sign for a pension and headed for it. As I limped along the street, a girl on a bicycle overtook me, looked over, and with a big smile, called out to me:”Buen Camino”, the universal pilgrim greeting along the Spanish Camino to Compostela. It unfroze me, and I became a pilgrim again...and a human being again. It was a new day from then on.

The folks at the pension, just across the street from the Cathedral, were happy to take me in.
After a fine little “Menu del dia” in a café down the street, I walked, (still slowly) to the city beach, and decided to give my plantar fascitis a touch of surf and sand therapy.I don’t know if my walk on the beach helped or not, but it felt very good, and the sound of the waves breaking only a meter away (and sometimes right under me), was restorative, and healing of mind and heart, if not of foot.
So now I await evening Mass in the Cathedral, then I’ll have a bite to eat, then to bed.
I have no idea right now what I will do tomorrow, but feel fine about that now. We’ll just wait and see..

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bordeaux, Day 3

Well, all in all, this has been a strange day. It is sort of like one of those "out of time" days after someone close to you has died and you are very busy about all the things that need to be taken care of, so busy that mourning itself is postponed. So it has been for me today. My efforts and those of my "guardian angels" back in Belgium to make contact with the local "Friends of Saint-Jacques" bore no great fruit: mostly out-of-date phone numbers; answering machines and unanswered messages. By 10:00 am I was on the street checking out bus and train schedules; bus schedules were bad, train was good, so by 11:00 I had bought a ticket to Irun, just across the French border in Spain for tomorrow morning (Tuesday), and then from Irun, I'll improvise my way towards Compostela by buses, taking several days to get there. My train ticket was returnable so if something new developed during the day, I would be free to change my mind and stay here longer or make other plans. Later in the day I went into the city center to wash all my clothes in a laundromat, and then in the afternoon, again, to buy a few items of clothing so I don't look quite so much like a wayward camper and can feel again against my skin something other than synthetic fibres, (real cotton underwear was high on my shopping list!). It has been a busy little day today; later, maybe tomorrow, I'll have to stop, take a deep breath, maybe have a little cry, and somehow say "au revoir" to the "chemin" which has been under my feet now for some 1300 kilometers.

The one thing that has come to seem obvious since arriving in Bordeaux is that continuing to walk as I had been walking just is not in the cards anymore. I spoke by phone to my brother, Bill, a physical therapist who has worked a lot with these kinds of injuries, and he was not particularly encouraging about the possibility of a quick fix; these plantar fascitis things are tough to heal in many cases. It's not likely to be good enough to do heavy hiking any time soon.
So the walking part of my pilgrimage is over for now; the pilgrimage itself continues as I now head to Compostela on wheels instead of feet. I will miss the walking, and miss it a lot, I suspect. I will miss the beautiful vistas of French countryside and its villages and the welcoming and extraordinarily kind people of France. I will miss talking to the mules and dogs and geese along the Way. I will miss the solitude. I'll miss the very special kind of prayer that is part and parcel of the pilgrim way, seldom pious, usually not so sweet, always from the heart, ("Okay, Jesus, help me out here, IF YOU DON'T MIND!!!).

In the days ahead, I'll continue to send reports to this blog as much as I am able, and when I get to Compostela on the weekend, I'll have a good talk with Santiago about this foot, and what he has been up to in getting me this far then allowing it to end so unexpectedly, and before I'm done with him I'll ask him to do good things for all who have been walking with me in prayer and through the web. I'll let you know how that goes.

Finally, I extend a special word of thanks to my Belgian "Guardian Angels," Gene and Caroline, for all they've done for me over these pilgrim months! This pilgrimage has been as much theirs as mine! And also a great "Gracias" in advance to my pilgrim pal in Galicia, Toni, who will meet me in Compostela and take me in for some days thereafter.

So, it's time to clean the mud off my boots, give Gregory the Great a bit of a clean-up, then repack him for his first train ride tomorrow; and before going to bed, say once more a not-so-pious and not-so-sweet word of gratitude to the Creator and Lord, who makes all things possible and blesses us with grace upon grace. It is an honor and a joy to be one of his pilgrims on the face of this beautiful earth...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bordeaux, day 2

What a fine sleep I had last night: 9 hours without a single awakening! I guess I was more tired from yesterday’s difficulties than I realized. It would be easy to say that THIS day was not a pilgrimage day, but that would be entirely untrue.This Sunday in Bordeaux was an altogether pilgrim day, even if I never put on my boots, jerked Gregory the Great up unto my back, nor took my trusty poles Click and Clack, for another trek across Frances’s grand countryside.

My pilgrim day began with a slow limp out of the hotel and down the street past the Gare St. Jean to the Eglise St. Croix for Sunday Mass. While sitting in a pew waiting for the 9:30 liturgy to begin, a priest in alb came out of the sacristy and began moving through the church nave, greeting one by one those gathered there. When he got to me, I told him I was a pilgrim and a priest myself, and he immediately welcomed me to join him and another priest in celebrating the Mass. I felt the warmth of his welcome as a breath of brotherhood that made me feel I was at home even here in the big city. Standing with them at the altar, especially at the moment before Communion, brought me back to my roots, to the ground under my feet, to the beginning and end of my pilgrim Way; this Jesus, he is that ground, he is the root, he is my beginning and end.

I was asked to distribute Communion to the folks present; in an odd linguistic confusion that I ordinarily would not have made, I found myself saying, as I offered the host to those before me: “le Coeur de Christ” instead of “le Corps de Christ”, (“the Heart of Christ” instead of “the Body of Christ”), an error that also had its own deep resonance of truth about it. Later I slowly walked up to the Cathedral in the city center. I spent a lot of time just sitting in the dark quiet of one of its small side chapels which had as its central image a very emotive crucified Christ, the upper body and hanging head expressive of an agony accepted and given. There was some kind of varnish on the corpus that glinted as if wet under the low light of the chapel; it looked like sweat, the sweat of legs that had walked and worked and endured plenty. In the stillness there I felt like his sweat gave meaning to my own sweat over these past months of walking, walking, walking…

Thereafter, I went to the sacristy, rang the bell and asked to have my pilgrim passport stamped; the sacristan cheerily agreed and when he unfolded the “creencial” and saw it almost full of stamps on both sides let out a typically French “Oh la la”. I felt a little proud just then. His hearty stamping of my “creencial”, with the seal of the Cathedral of Bordeaux confirmed this Sunday as a veritable pilgrim day for sure. Tomorrow I’ll see if I can get a bit of medical attention for this foot, then I’ll make decisions as to what comes next on this pilgrim adventure.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Bordeaux??? Aren’t I supposed to be in La Reole? Yes, that’s where I was headed when I cheerily left my refuge in Pellegrue this morning, a challenging 25 km hike.

It wasn’t long before I knew I was in some trouble. For three days or so my plantar fascia, a complex of tendons and their sheaths on the very bottom of the foot/heel has been irritated, but always before walkable. Today was different: it was like walking with a broomstick in my boot. Though not a knife-like pain, the dull ache and feeling of the whole thing being swollen made for very tough going. I covered only 5 km in two hours, and by the time I got to little Saint Ferme, I was very tired and limping badly. I knew I wasn’t going to make it another 20 km, so I asked for help in getting down the road. Saint Ferme has no bus or taxi service so I asked the local baker for help in getting a taxi from the next village to someplace where I might have some options, (walking on not being one of them!)

No taxi available, so the kind baker brought around his little delivery truck, threw my pack and poles in among the baguettes, and drove me the 20 km to La Reole, the same route I should have been walking. He took me to the train station, though I was still thinking of just spending the night in La Reole. The train to Bordeaux was approaching as I got there; so leaving La Reole behind, I hopped on and suddenly found myself in the big noisy hyper-busy world of the city, a long ways from the solitude and tranquility of the “chemin”.

As before, once again I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to crash as a pilgrim; the frailty of the human body is humbling, but humility is a prime pilgrim virtue so it’s part of the pilgrimage too. So tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll hobble off to Mass, lay low, keep off the stressed foot as much as I can, and put off making any decisions about what’s next in my pilgrimage until later. As my train hurtled its way toward Bordeaux, at one point I felt like crying a little, but no tears came; not yet anyway. Maybe they won’t be necessary and I’ll be back on my Way soon. May it be so. Saint-Jacques: Fix me!

Friday, October 12, 2007


As I write this, late in the afternoon, my walking work over for the day, the sky is as blue as blue can be, and the late afternoon sun softens the stone walls of this ancient town into a lovely gold hue. It was not ever so; in fact, this afternoon and this morning hardly seem to belong to the same day.
I left Saint-Foy in a thick fog, that only after several hours lifted high enough to then become a low overcast. Not a spot of sunshine brightened a fairly grim walk beside, around, and through the vineyards of this corner of Bordeaux country. Making matters worse, the tourism folks of the regional Gironde government don’t seem to have allowed the “Amis de Saint-Jacques” to put up their usual arrows to guide us on our way; they have put on their own “Compostelle” markers which follow our route, more or less, but not entirely. They disappeared entirely for several kms. Caution and an extra dose of alertness are called for, and it’s an irritation.
Making matters worse yet, my troublesome plantar fascitis decided to act up today, making walking slower and more achy throughout the morning.
Once safely arrived in Pellegrue, I retrieved the key to the municipal refuge from the local bar, then returned for a sandwich and beer. Along came another pilgrim, considerably older than myself. He too came into the bar, so I asked if he was looking for the refuge, since I had the key. He told me no, he intended to continue another 15 kms. (making a total of 34 for the day!), but he sat down with me for a sandwich and beer too. Peter began his pilgrimage in his hometown of Koblenz, Germany, and outside a bout with fleas, and another with tick, he’s been doing some great walking, getting stronger and going further each day. He didn’t look bushed at all after the same 20 km. I had just done (I always feel bushed after 20!).
I admire so much these older folks who are out here on the road, but they do make me feel a bit like a piker. We all have our ways, and not two are alike, and my more tortoisy pace has got me this far, so I don’t feel too bad.
I’m sitting in a bright little park just outside the village church; it’s a lovely old building of simple Romanesque design, except that about half of its façade is missing, and a 19th century addition of a bell tower that rather resembles a minaret. One set of windows inside has been recently filled with the faceted stain glass of Gabriel Loire from Chartres, who also did the windows for my home parish in Spokane, St. Charles. It made me feel a homey connection between this old world and that of my other life back in the States. Here and there, they are not so far apart, really. I have a spiritual foot in both, and it’s not too great a stretch…

Thursday, October 11, 2007


An October pilgrim couldn’t ask for a better day than the one the Creator of the universe granted me today. Even before the sun rose over the horizon on little La Cabane, it was evident we had ourselves a perfectly clear sky above our heads. After so many days of gloomy overcast, this was a treat indeed.

I enjoyed my petit dejeuner with Noëlle and her friends, dawdled over my coffee, not wanting to leave so soon such good folks, but finally hefted Gregory on my back and started down the road under the loveliest of sunshine and blue skies. Soon I passed my first vineyard in weeks; it was like seeing an old friend again, though at this time of year the vines are tinged with brown and many seem to have already had their fruit harvested. (When I passed through Champagne the grapes were still so immature, hardly grapes at all; how far I’ve come in time and geography!)
After about 2 1/2 hours on the road I stopped on the grassy verge of one of these vineyards, sat down in the grass, soaked up the autumn sunshine, listened to the back and forth songs of the birds, and snacked on granola bars. As I said, just about perfect!

Along the way I met up with a farmer herding his cattle from one field to another. He came up to me and asked: “A Compostelle?” "Yes", I said, and answered his other questions about where I have come from and what kind of work I do. When I told him that I am a priest, he went sad and said: “There are no more priests here; almost all gone, no Masses in our churches; everything is changing. Our villages are dying, the young don’t want to live here anymore. Our farms are dying too. My own children have gone to the cities and don’t want to farm. Who will feed the world when we are gone? Milk will be like petrol, always the price going up, up, up….”. He shook his head in resigned disgust, then smiled at me and shook my head again: “Courage, M’sieur.” And “Courage” to you as well, M'sieur.

The last kilometer into La Foy was a steep downhill goat trail that was a real challenge to end the day with; my guide book called it a “plonge”. And I can only presume that’s Francais for “plunge”, a singularly appropriate description of this trail down to the Dordogne river valley.
The town is a thriving place with lots of “old world character”. I’m staying the night in the local parish house, which now serves as a pilgrim refuge as well as parish catechism center and other uses. I’m alone in the big old place so rattle about a bit – all the more reason to get into town for a 5 pm beer and later a pizza. The almost perfect end to an almost perfect day!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

La Cabane

You probably will never find this place on your grand maps of France; it is no more than a few farm houses around a bend in the road, though a fairly big road, the D40. But I’m here, in the home of a fine lady, Noëlle, who welcomes pilgrims in with warmth and generosity, even now, when her husband, Didier, is in the hospital. Her place is at about the mid-point in a 34 km stretch of the pilgrim way that someone decided should be done in one day. Not me. I’m staying right here for the night and will finish the “etappe” in Saint- Foy tomorrow, an easy 14 km walk.

As predicted, plenty of rain greeted this weary pilgrim upon awakening, but having learned something from Patricia in St. Astier, I dawdled through my morning preparations and lingered over my warm coffee and “pain au raisin” before finally heading out the door at 9:30. The strategy worked; by then the rain was easing up considerably and though I was getting wet, my boots and jacket stood up to it.
As the morning passed so too did the rain and it wasn’t too long before the clouds had exhausted the last of the day’s load. And it was dry sailing from then on. No lightning. No thunder. And my achy plantar fascitis was manageable through the day. Saint Jacques heard my prayers!

Along the way, about three hours into the walk, I was overtaken by a bicycling lady pilgrim who called to me “Are you Kevin from Spokane?” I responded with considerable surprise that indeed I was but how did she know? It turns out she had read my inscription in the guest book back in Sorges and asked the hospitalière, Micheline, about me. Her interest was piqued because her son had been an exchange student in Spokane! We stood in the road, she astride her bike, me with Gregory the Great on my back, chatting happily for 15 minutes or so, then Hildegard from Frankfurt said: “Well, gotta go….” And off she rode, out of my life as quickly as she had entered it. But what a good time we had while it lasted; it was like we had known each other forever. That’s the way it seems to be out here in this land where pilgrims are presently quite far and few between: it’s as if because of our common life as pilgrims, experiencing and enduring much the same thing, that we know each other as friends even before we know each other. Anyway, “bon chemin, Hildegard!”

So Madame Noëlle is just about ready to serve up some home cooking (smells great, but don’t know what it is yet). The skies have mostly cleared and tomorrow will be a new day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


The first part of today’s walk was surprisingly level, the path staying generally close to the l’Isle river as it meanders southward, (the same river that rocked me to sleep the last two nights in St. Astiers). I crossed it at least three times through the morning. The terrain is clearly leveling out as I get closer to the wine country of nearby Bordeaux.
I had one quite steep hill just after the village of Douzillac, and that is where my optimism about my successful treatment of my troublesome plantar fascitis gave way to renewed concern as the thing flared up again when I climbed upward. It remained sore the rest of the day but was not so bad as to seriously impede my walking. So I’ll have to have a serious talk with Big Jim about this; I don’t want to have to deal with this for the next 1500 kilometer!

I’m staying tonight in Mussidan’s municipal refuge, a humble place but with all the necessities a pilgrim could want. The local “Amis de St. Jacques” really go out of their way to make these refuges comfortable and homey for us. My host for tonight is Joel, who stopped by a while ago to stamp my pilgrim pass, collect a few euros from me, and give me lots of good advice about the upcoming road and towns. The last thing he told me was that tomorrow, the weatherman is predicting not only rain but also lightning and thunder. I’m praying he’s wrong (Son of Thunder, are you listening?!)

So now it’s time to collect my damp laundry from outside as the sun goes down and hang it inside the refuge with the hope that it will be mostly dry by the morning (a vain hope in regard to my wool socks). Then off into town to rustle up some dinner.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Saint-Asnier, day 2

So my new pilgrim friend, Patricia, left this morning after a late rising and leisurely breakfast. I stayed put.
Last night, over our birthday pizza and pretty darn good house wine, she asked me if I was happy being a pilgrim. I hesitated in my answer. “Yes and no …I find some of it wearying: the rain, a different bed every night, the weight of the pack on my back some days, the same clothes day after day. But there are also moments of grace, inspiration, solitude filled with calm…I am happy to be here, though it’s not always fun.” Her answer to the same question was much simpler: she loves it all.
As she left this morning, almost gliding down the street, I thought that she is a natural pilgrim, while I’ve dropped into this world from another place and am just doing my best to get down the road day after day, trudging along with Gregory the Great weighing me down and my body always on the edge of another breakdown. But on I go, though not a natural born pilgrim, one by adoption - and that’s got to be good enough.

So today for me was a quiet day, mostly in my little room with the river flowing just beyond, listening to my book on the iPod, (Paul Elie’s intertwining of the lives of Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, and Flannery O’Connor), and writing in my journal, all the while tending my sore foot, (which is doing much better after its day off too). It rained a fair amount today so I was just as happy to be holed-up here as out on the road, (see, I’m NOT a natural pilgrim).

Tomorrow will hold new things to see, new thoughts to ponder, new inspirations, and, maybe, another pilgrim to befriend, then let go of….

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Another day, another hazy mist hanging over the Dordogne. This morning’s edition was not nearly as thick and low as that of yesterday, but not exactly cheering in advance of a 26 km. day either. Once I had walked beyond the limits of Perigueux, I was feeling better about this Sunday morning; at least it wasn’t raining, my feet and legs were working fine, and the country side I was passing through was beautiful even in the mists.
The route today had a few roller coaster ups and downs in it that were quite challenging, but later in the day the terrain leveled out considerably.
While taking a breather at an old Augustinian monastery, in a little place called Chancellade, I met up with a young Dutch girl, Patricia, who has been on the road for 17 days, and plans to go as far as St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. She is staying in the same B+B as I here in St. Astier, and today is her 30th birthday, so maybe we’ll celebrate over pizza and a glass of Bordeaux.
One new problem for me: I’ve been bothered by a small tendon in the foot for several years now, “plantar fascitis”, I think is what it is called, nothing ever too serious. But by the last few hours of today’s hike it was bothering me quite a bit; not terribly painful, but troublesome. I’ll give it a good dose of ibuprofen tonight, stretch it a bit, and hope it is feeling better tomorrow. If not, I may take the day off and give the foot some rest.
My bedroom window opens out to a great river flowing by; the sound of it as I rest and write is a grace.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


The optimistic reports about the weather passed on to me mid-week have been right only about one thing: it IS warm for October in France; the temperatures in the afternoons are getting into the mid-20s C. (upper 60s low 70s). The sunny skies just are not showing up, though. The village of Sorges at 8.00 this morning was enveloped in a dense cloud of drippy mists through which I then walked for the next 3 hours; it was so damp that water droplets were drizzling down the front of my glasses.
I walked for most of those early hours along a small highway, so for extra safety in the pea soup I put on my headlamp, a small, bright LED flashlight that straps to my forehead; no use getting whacked by a Renault.
The fog eventually lifted, though the skies remained low and grey. As I walked I passed a large goose ranch, hundreds of the birds out in a field, as a moving, cackling carpet of grey. I called out to them that they should try to break out, or they’d be seeing their livers being served up in little pieces of toast on Christmas tables all over France. They didn’t take my warning seriously, so I see nothing but foie gras in their future. Thiviers, by the way, is home to the Foie Gras Museum, and Sorges claims for itself the Truffle Museum, but can they compete with Leuven’s Museum of Witloof?
I would like to come back to this area of France, for this is Cro-magnon country, and nearby caves have ancient paintings deep within: running horses and handprints, much more interesting than truffles and foie gras.
Perigueux, where I ended today’s walk, is a fairly big city, and one of the more famous pilgrim stops from the Middle Ages. At the center of town is a massive Byzantine cathedral with a multiplicity of domes and great sweeping arches in all four directions. It is a magnificent thing, and the recent renovations to the sanctuary are beautifully done. I felt at home there, and enjoyed just sitting in its dark coolness for awhile, taking a deep breath or two after a long day on the Way.
These churches in these pilgrim towns are the real links in the pilgrim chain; the walking takes us from one to the next, with the expectation that in these great places of prayer, one after another after another, we seek and find the true Way. It’s a cumulative effect; they slowly open up more and more of the mysteries of life and God to us, the more that we walk into them and breathe in their strange air. The walking too, with all that it holds, day in and day out, does plenty of revealing and unfolding, but it’s in the churches that the truths are made explicit for the pilgrim, at least for pilgrims who are looking for truth and what is real in themselves and the universe. So I think, anyway.

Friday, October 5, 2007


Today’s 17,5 km. walk was an easy one, few hills and no mud or rain to contend with. It also was one with few encounters along the way, except for a couple of yapping dogs, and a mule that ambled across its pasture to greet me. “My, what big ears you have!” I told her. She flopped them about for a second, then wandered off as I headed up the road.
Last evening’s dinner at the table of Jos and Jeanine, along with their other guests, two women from their hometown of Tilburg, was lively and great fun. In visiting a bit more this morning with Jeanine, I was further impressed with her and Jos’ dedication to caring for us pilgrims; it is really a vocation for them, and I believe our pilgrimages belong as much to them and the other pilgrim “hôtes” along the way, as they do to us who walk.
I arrived here in Sorges at about 12.30, only to find that the refuge doesn’t open until 4 pm., so I find myself and Gregory the Great sprawled out on a small lawn, leaning up against the 12th century stone walls of the parish church, killing time until opening hour. The clouds are growing heavier so I may have to take refuge IN the church if rain begins to fall. I already spent some time there. There is a wonderful holy water font from, I suppose, the 12th century or so, carved on four sides with the cockleshell of the Compostela pilgrimage. It attests to the importance of the pilgrims to this village, who passed through here in their medieval droves. I wonder if the tradition of opening the village refuge at 4 pm. goes back to the 12th century as well?

Sorges, evening.
My host for the night arrived to open the refuge at 3.30, and as soon as we met I felt sorry for my earlier impatience. Madame Micheline is a fine host, who is spending two weeks in this little refuge 20 kms. from home to take care of the few of us who are still wandering down the “chemin”. This week she has only had two of us: my Canadian companion from a few days ago, and now me, yet she keeps the place clean and ready for whomever may yet show up.
Tonight, she had a meeting here with the newly elected president of the Association des Amis de Saint Jacques for Limousin/Perigord, whose hard work makes all of this possible for us; they prepare the maps and guides, set up the refuges, maintain the trail signs, and a lot more. He himself stamped and signed my pilgrim passport; I thanked him and all the “Amis” for all they do for us otherwise pretty helpless pilgrims.
Micheline and I shared a simple dinner together, and now it is almost time for bed; another day closer to Compostela

Thursday, October 4, 2007


"So what do you think about all these hours that you are on the road?" I've been asked that question several times over the past weeks; almost as often as "Why are you doing this?" I must admit that very often I don't think about a lot; my body and mind go into a sort of "overdrive" and I just walk, walk, walk. But even that "overdrive" experience can lead to extraordinary pilgrim moments. I had one today. I had gotten out of La Coquille at 8:00 am and though under heavy skies, didn't have to contend with rain, or even worse, the lightning that was again predicted for today. After about an hour or so, I was passing through the midst of one of the chestnut and oak forest that are abundant here in the Dordogne. I was in "overdrive", walking, walking, walking... Then in the midst of this rather dark and low woods, the road before me, my feet and legs working in tandem like a finely oiled machine (for the moment), life on the road feeling very good, and there it was: a feeling more than a thought: "I'm walking into God... God before me, around me, God enveloping me, God in the trees, God in the light, God in the road under my feet, God above, God below, God around, God about, God within, God alive, God laughing, God beholding, God caring, God crying... God in us... God in my family, God in my friends, God in our saints, God in our poor... I am walking into communion... I am walking into God..."
Well, those are a lot of words to describe a feeling, a sense, an awareness that lasted just a few moments; but its the best I can do right now. These things are so fleeting, as is most everything associated with the pilgrimage; you can't hold on to these things or the people you meet, but you can remember them and be grateful long after they are "over." Later, I will search out better words for that moment this morning; for the time being, I just am grateful and feel privileged to be here: alive, walking, experiencing so much more than just "thoughts."
Tonight, I am staying in the B&B of a Dutch couple here in Thiviers, Jeanine and Jos; though they also welcome tourists, they "specialize" in hosting pilgrims like myself. Jeanine is preparing a "healthy pilgrim dinner" for us right now. It is always a wonder that such people commit themselves to ministering to us pilgrims; how great is the great gift of hospitality. They make the pilgrim's world a lovely world to be a part of.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

La Coquille

Despite forecasts of thunderstorms, today has been a perfect, even glorious day for walking. The October sun is warming, yet the pilgrim never gets hot. The fields and pastures remain splendidly green, while the woods and forests are clearly changing their wardrobe to the autumn collection.
Today’s route took me mostly along dirt and grass paths, still very wet from recent rains and morning dew. I took my first fall of the journey this morning while crossing a small wooden plank placed over a creek as a sort of bridge; as I stepped of the slippery board, one foot went out from me and down I went;
but it was a soft landing and I managed to keep my fanny out of creek, mud and nettles.
Shortly thereafter I crossed into a new region of France, Aquitaine, formerly ruled over by the extraordinary Elinore, whose son, by the way, Richard the Lionhearted, took the arrow in Chalus (where I stayed yesterday), that took his life.
I only met one other person on the road today; just before arriving in La Coquille I was passed by a cyclist, who then pulled off the road at an intersection and seemed lost. I arrived and greeted him; he was a New Zealander on a week bicycle holiday from his sabbatical studies in Oxford. We had a great visit on the roadside. Since I was the only pilgrim he had seen in his travels thus far, he asked to take a picture of me to send to a friend back home who hopes to do a pilgrimage some day, “Just to show her that people really do do this!”.
La Coquille, despite its historical pedigree as a medieval pilgrim stop, seems to be a very modern village: no tipsy open-frame houses, dank and damp churches, or ruined castles about, but cheery.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Once again, it rained through a fair part of the night, but by “stepping out” time at 8.00, the rain had passed and the sky was clearing; this seems to be becoming a pattern!
Monique, my pilgrim companion from yesterday, and I, recontinued our own pattern, and though we walked together and occasionally chatted, most of the time we ambled down the road in quiet. I planned a short day today, less than 15 kms., but she intended to go on for another 15, so after tangling with a very muddy path for a couple kms., and getting lost (not too disastrously!), we arrived in Chalus, and here said our “au revoirs”, she heading down the road, and I off to look for a room for the night. I’ll miss her companionship.
I’m established in a little hotel/restaurant facing on the national highway…lots of semi-trucks roaring by my window. Oh well: such is the life of the lowly pilgrim!
I can’t help but notice as I walk on that the forests of chestnut and oak are quickly taking on a decidedly more brown cast; it is now looking like October here. Yet for the time being, the temperature remains mild; I walked today without even a T-shirt under my high-tech hiker’s shirt.
We met an 86 year old man on the road today, just completing his daily 5 km. walk to keep fit. Even from a distance he had a great smile for us as we approached, and his old eyes twinkled as we told him a bit of our pilgrim stories. He shook our hands and wished us well, a wish that was clearly from the heart. He seemed to love us for being fellow walkers. I felt as if I had just met God the Father.
I received a phone message today from Michael, one of our Louvain seminarians; he just wanted to say hello and see how I am doing. Thanks, Michael. I’m doing better for having heard your laugh again! Grace and peace to you and your AC brothers!

Monday, October 1, 2007


As I went t bed last night I took one look out of the window to make sure the sky was still clear, promising a rain –free walk today; clear as could be! Great!
Shortly after getting up, the now familiar sound of rain running off roofs and down gutters told a new story: I was in for a very wet 27 km. day. Rats! But by the time I walked out the door of the Grand Seminaire, the rain had mostly stopped, and the skies were clearing again. Double great!
Walking out of a city is no fun; busy streets, traffic lights, confusing directions, all make it slow going. After about 45 minutes of that, my path out of Limoges intersected with that of another pilgrim. We greeted one another from across a thick intersection; she crossed over to my side, and suddenly I had a walking partner for the day. Monique is a French Canadian who speaks about as much English as I speak French, so mostly we spent the next 6 hours on the road walking in quiet, but enjoying each other’s company anyway; and thus the kms. clicked by, making the day’s walk seem much less burdensome than otherwise.
We got lightly rained on in Aix-sur-Vienne, but other than that we remained dry today. Triple great!
Flavignac is a village with a history going back 2000 years, or so the town brochure says. Certainly, it has long been a stop on the way to Compostela for multitudes of pilgrims over the centuries, and still is.
The next “official” stage in my guide is over 30 kms., but I intend to split it in two, giving me two easy days of less than 20 kms. each.
Guess what? As I write, the sweet sound of rain on rooftops and running through gutters sings softly to me:”Be ready for anything, brother” And so I shall try to be.