¡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!

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.