The pilgrims continue to come. Only God knows what each one of us brings, and with what kind of heart. We come mystically…We know the mess we bring and the often distracted heart that brings it. But this is all we have–all we are. One stretches out his arms to receive.
M. Basil Pennington, Journey in a Holy Land: A Spiritual Journal
I depart Santiago tomorrow via train to Madrid, then the next morning a flight home.
I took a long walk around Santiago this evening as a way of saying goodbye. I spent time again in the Cathedral in a couple of the chapels in quiet reflection. I walked up behind the gilded high altar and placed my brow on the back of Santiago’s (St. James) head. It’s a ritual for peregrinos.
I am moved by the oddest things on this journey.
The other night after Mass the priest asked the peregrinos to gather to the side for a pilgrim blessing. They passed out little booklets and gave each of us a 2×2 inch square black piece of construction paper. Hmm. What is this for I asked the woman next to me.
“I think it’s to mark your page in the book,” she sId.
There were about 30 or so pilgrims there and only about five of us spoke English. It didn’t look like any of them, or very few at least, had walked very far on the Camino. They looked way too fresh. Being Judgmental. There I go again…
The priest (or was he a deacon?) was a jolly sort. He welcomed us, said some things in Spanish and then led us in singing from the little booklet. Most of the others were from Spain and all of a sudden folks stood up, left the pews, and still singing, went in procession around the back of the Cathedral and into the cloister. Ok, I’m with ’em.
In the cloister there’s a small canister. We all gather around it in a circle and the priest gestures for us to come in closer, shoulder to shoulder. They light a fire in the canister and the priest talks a bit and then says the black pieces of paper represent something we need to let go and for for us to place it in the fire and the smoke will carry it away.
He started singing again and we processed back in the church and into a part that is being renovated by artisans. He took great care and time to tell us about the history of the Cathedral, about St. James and the renovation project. It was great that an Irish woman who volunteers in the peregrino office helped interpret for the handful of us who couldn’t speak Spainish.
That was nice, I thought we’d wrap up and that would be it. Hardly. We started singing again following the little brochure, and we went up on the altar! Not just the first part, but all the way up under the statute of Santiago and the Angels themselves! Right under all that gold!
We sat where the priests sit and he then asked us if we’d like to share with the group tell why we did the Camino. About six of us spoke–including me–and they translated from English to Spanish. Afterwards several people came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story.
So here I am, grandfather of the Camino, a kid from Oklahona, standing on the altar of this massive Cathedral built in 1060, under the statue of St, James, and just above where his remains are interred, holding a microphone and talking about why I did the Camino. Very humbling.
We then went down into the “catacombs” and had a chance to kneel before Santiago’s tomb, the Apostle of Christ, the one Jesus called “Son of Thunder.” I’m four feet away from the remains of the Apostle of Christ, the first Apostle to be martyrdom, the Patron Saint of Spain.
It was a surreal feeling.
Afterwards the priest blessed us and sent us on our ways.
It was 10:00 pm before we left the Cathedral!
Thus was absolutely amazing experience. In other churches along the Camino the priest has given pilgrims blessings, but nothing like this…
Tomorrow I will reflect on that.
But now it is late and sleep calls.
Man of La Mancha Blessings
Grandfather of the Camino