Home' Aurora : Aurora October 2015 Contents 16
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine
SEASONS OF GRACE
There's a moment in The Second Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel when hotel entrepreneur
Sonny says, "No present like the time ! " The
misquoted cliché applies easily to a recent
experience. Over some 35 days, I walked
the pilgrim's path across nor thern Spain.
Camino is Spanish for 'road' but it's come to
r efer to an ancient way, marked by yellow
arrows, that leads from St Jean Pied de Por t
in France, across the Pyrenees Mountains
and westward to Santiago de Compostela;
'St James of the field of stars'.
When a dear friend shared her intention to
walk the camino, I thought, "I would like to
do that." To cut a long story short, after a
year of tr aining, planning and list-making, we
set off on a sunny mor ning from the pretty
French town of St Jean Pied de Por t.
We car ried the minimum in our backpacks
- an achievement for someone who had
never flown 'car ry-on'. Hiking sticks proved
their wor th ever y day and my vocabulary
soon expanded to include terms like
albergue (pilgrim's hostel), tortilla (delicious
at breakfast, lunch or tea) and café con
leche (coffee with milk). Nourishment was
ver y impor tant!
Most people with whom I shared my plan
showed interest, and those who knew me
well kindly refr ained from showing surprise ,
doubt or outright disbelief. Let me simply
say that physical exer tion is not my strong
suit. However, I walk, and all the camino
r equires is walking -- all day, almost every
day, but never theless - it's just one foot
after the other, right?
Yes, and no.
The aspect I had anticipated most wa s
simplicity. Rise -- dress and pack -- walk --
breakfast -- walk -- snack -- walk -- lunch
-- walk -- arrive and book a bed -- shower
-- wash clothes -- relax! This might include
jour nalling, checking email, resting or
chatting to other pilgrims. Sometimes there
was plenty to see, sometimes the perimeter
of the town wa s only a ten-minute stroll. It
was surprising, having walked for at least half
the day with an early star t, how quickly we
could walk again, sans backpack. Dinner was
early by Spanish standards , usually in the
company of fellow pilgrims, and we would
be in our sleeping bags, if not asleep, well
Only once was there no room at the
inn. It wa s tr uly horrible. After walking
31 kilometres and ar riving in a dr y and
char mless town, neither albergue had beds.
Our par ty of three must have looked so
distr aught that an innkeeper offered to
phone ahead to the next town, where there
was only one albergue, to reser ve beds for
us. In 30+ degree heat, we had to walk
another three kilometres. When we ar rived,
the albergue's grounds included a small
pool wher e pilgrims could sit and soak their
weary feet. Bliss!
I'd like to say that I thought about how
refugees and asylum-seekers must feel,
fleeing per secution or conflict and unable to
find a place to call home.
I'd like to say that I recalled the story of
Mar y and Joseph seeking shelter and being
offered a stable.
I'd like to say I thought about all the people
who are homeless and whose lives hold
little security or promise.
However, I didn't think about anyone else.
I wa s too hot, too tired and too anxious to
think beyond what I knew was a temporar y
hiccup in a wonder-full experience. Clearly
pilgrimage had a lot to teach me.
I did encounter many teachers,
There was Siobhan*, who had nur sed her
husband until his early death and who had
two young adult sons, one with a serious
addiction. She was walking "to learn
There was Patrick*, a young Irishman,
whom I initially judged a s something of a
Billy Bunter char acter who just might not
make it. How wrong could I have been? He
was a camino veteran and he walked for
two weeks each year because he feared life
becoming too easy and convenient for a
young, well-paid single man like himself.
And there was Katie*, also Irish. A good
par t of the population of Ireland seems to
be 'on the road' ! Thanks to the influence
of the Loreto Sister s, she wa s studying
to be a teacher. The world needs young
people who want to teach with the passion
These cameos indicate that the gift of my
camino was the oppor tunity to meet and
engage with all these people and so many
more. My companion Carole would say,
"Tr acey collects stories", and she was right.
In the words of the vener able Caroline
Jones, "I carry the stories like a sacr ed
libr ary. Once someone has told me their
story I cannot do other than keep it
and treasure it." (An Authentic Life ABC
As well as collecting stories, I was reflecting
on my own, always through the prism of
the faces of family and friends. I had invited
the most significant people in my life to
pray for me, each on a par ticular camino
day. I pr ayed too, and often my pr ayer
was a r eflection on the gift of that per son.
The far ther I walked, the stronger became
the sense of these invisible companions ,
including my father in heaven, who would
have so enjoyed sharing it all.
The camino, of cour se, was not all stories
LIKE THE TIME
and 'aha' moments, although there were
plenty of those. Some days the sun was
too hot, the road too steep, the backpack
too heavy and the destination too far away.
On day one, I wrote in my journal: "The
scener y was spectacular but oh, it was hard.
Really hard. 'Walk lightly and easily' said
the guidebook, with no mention of gasping
for air! "
Weeks later, after an equally challenging
section, I wrote, "Today we ar e walking on
top of the world!"
Was the cathedr al at Santiago an impossible
dream ? At times , and yet, suddenly, we
were there !
There are rituals on ar rival. You join a
queue at the pilgrims' office to present your
credencial and to be questioned about your
motivation. You emerge with a cer tificate
inscribed with your name in Latin. While you
look for ward to sleeping in a-place-that-is-
not-an-albergue, you wander around the city,
with a silly grin for ever y pilgrim you meet.
The next day we visit the scaffolded
cathedral. It's very gr and, very gold, very
Spanish and eventually, ver y crowded.
We attend Mass in a small chapel, with an
Irish priest presiding and then take prime
positions for the pilgrims' Ma ss. The Mass
is the Mass, so we can par ticipate ea sily.
Everyone's waiting for the flight of the
botafumeiro (swinging incensor) and it doesn't
disappoint! At once thrilling and a little
threatening, and swathing us all in incense, it
has become the most powerful symbol of a
So, what nex t, now the feet have recovered
and the backpack is packed away -- for now?
For me, it means that the daily challenge of
walking the camino is replaced by the daily
challenge of living the camino - open to the
stories, infused by pr ayer, balancing solitude
and companionship, motion and stillness, and
taking the ups and downs in my stride.
Anyone who has the present -- the gift -- of
the time to walk is blessed. It was, and is, a
*Names changed for privacy.
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