¡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!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

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, SeƱor, 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!