¡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 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.