¡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!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Doc Says "GO!"

GOOD NEWS! I will be continuing my pilgrimage on Monday of the coming week! The troublesome tendon quite suddenly decided to get better on Sunday and has continued to improve since. I went to the local physical therapist in Leuven yesterday (Wednesday) and he suggested giving it a few more days of rest, ice, light exercise and stretches, but after the weekend, he told me, I should be good to begin again. He noted that there is always the risk of further problems and that if the tendon flares up again, stop. But on the other hand, there is also a good chance that it will be fine and I won't have more problems further on. So on Sunday, my friends, the Foleys, will drive me back down to Tonnerre, France, where I left off and then stay close by for a few days to make sure all goes well. They will even carry my backpack for the first couple days to let me "break in" more easily.
I'll continue sharing my daily progress on this web log. And beginning next week I'll be back using my French mobile number: +33 674 70 42 61.
I'm very happy about this, all the more so because I had been lately seriously doubting that I would be able to continue. My plans must change in that there is now no way to go all the way to Compostela but if I can make it at least to St. Jean Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees where I began my previous pilgrimage, I'll be more than satisfied. That is still almost 1000 kms to walk (600 miles) and almost two months to do it, so it is still a substantial challenge ahead. Thanks for all your prayers and support! Keep it coming!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

28 Years and Counting

Waterloo (still!). Yesterday, the 25th of August, marked the completion of 28 years of life as a priest for me. My sense of calendar time has become so amorphous this summer that, though I knew it was Saturday, I wasn't aware of the date until last evening when I turned on my mobile phone to check for messages. There it was on the opening screen where calendar items and appointments are listed: "Ordination Anniversary--Kevin." I am glad to have noticed before the day ended for I am grateful for this life and have never felt I could be anything other than what I was led to and what I have done my best to say yes to all these days and years since Saturday, August 25, 1979. I am happy to be a priest and could be no other. It is me. Even with my faults, failings and multiple sins along the way, priesthood has been and remains the real pilgrimage of my life. As I have walked my way through these years, every day has brought graces and blessings and "kingdom moments" in abundance, almost always "incarnated" in the extraordinarily ordinary people who I meet along the way. Every confessee, every counselee, every person I've given communion to, every person I've ever buried: what a treasure to meet them and walk with them for a brief moment or two in their own various pilgrimages. I regret not a wit the fundamental choice to be a priest, but only my failures in generosity, my laziness in prayer, my lack of wisdom in guiding others, and my many and varied sins along the way that have kept me from being more like Jesus. What more can I say: I am grateful!

So how's the leg, anyway? Obviously, I'm still here in Waterloo, beginning my fourth week of "hiatus" from the geographical pilgrim route (the interior pilgrimage, of course, continues!). There are some signs this weekend that it may be getting better; the crepitation (that is, the gritty, grindy feeling when the tendon is extended and relaxed), is negligible this morning though some ache remains. This gives me some hope that it may finally be healing itself, but after so many minor improvements followed by relapses, I am not yet ready to declare myself free to go on. I've given myself to the end of this week to make a decision about calling the rest of the pilgrimage off. If I choose not to go on, I shall go to Spain and as quickly as possible get set up in a pilgrim refuge or parish along the pilgrimage route and use the remainder of my time to care for others among St. James' beloved pilgrims. That would hold stories and adventures worthy of telling too, I'm sure. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I read. I finished on Friday a little novel called Vernon God Little, which won the Booker prize in 2003. I enjoyed coming to know the central character, a sort of Bart Simpson on steroids, but found the line of the story by the end neither very believable nor, alternatively, very insightful as a presumed satire of American society and our way of pursuing justice. Now I am half-way through American Gospel, a brief history of the relationship between religion and state in the United States. Next on the reading list? Fr Vince is encouraging me to dive into the final volume of the Harry Potter series. Maybe, if things go well, I'll be back in my own special pilgrim world of adventures and mysteries somewhere south of Tonnerre before I get to it!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Not quite yet...

Waterloo. The cast on my left leg came off on Friday morning as expected. It was a simple and straightforward process: the young nurse wielded her buzz saw and sliced down one side and up the other, then pried the two halves open with an oversize pair of pliers, and, voila, the cast was in the trash can. I immediately stretched my foot forward and back, feeling with my fingertips for the "scratchy" feeling in the tendon that indicates inflammation and finding none. A bit of sensitivity at the top of the tendon remained but seemed very minimal. I slipped carefully off the gurney and took a few tentative steps, then put on my light boots and with Caroline Foley at my side, hobbled out of the hospital. It seemed so strange that it was as difficult to walk without the cast as it was when it first went on two weeks ago. The body takes time to adapt...and then "unadapt" to these encumbrances.

Caroline, Gene, Fr. Vince and I went to lunch in town, then I did a bit of shopping for pilgrimage extras at the local sporting goods shop: a couple pairs of socks that I've come to like better than the others (Bridgedale: you make great trekking socks!), some boot wax and a small bottle of mosquito repellent. My ambling slowly about Leuven seemed fine enough, though it took a while for a more natural gate to begin returning. I was grateful and hopeful for a Monday return to Tonnerre, France and the continuation of my pilgrimage southwards.

Saturday was a different story. I decided to take my new tendon out for a "test drive" so put on my boots at midday and headed down the main shopping street of Waterloo, the Chaussee de Bruxelles. I walked easily and lightly, being extra careful of potholes in the sidewalk and stepping up and down over curbs. I walked for an hour before deciding to turn back and did so with no problem whatsoever. I was thrilled. Shortly after turning back up the Chaussee, I noticed a bit of sensitivity in my lower left leg again, but not bad. I was back in the rectory in less than 35 minutes, and as a precaution, iced the tendon before taking a shower and getting ready for the 5:00 pm Mass, which I had offered to take for Vince, who was busy with two weddings in the afternoon. While at church, I noticed more ache. I reached down under my alb to feel the tendon; with great disappointment, I realized that the grating feeling in the tendon was back in full, which means the inflammation is back. By late evening, it was aching as it did even before the cast went on two weeks ago. Today, it is slightly better, but a long way from good enough for walking 20 kilometers every day.

So there will be no return to Tonnerre on Monday and probably not for the rest of this week at least. I am taking an oral anti-inflammatory, continuing with icing it and lightly stretching it, and hoping and praying that it will heal soon, but the clock is ticking and the days available for me to walk are only decreasing as I wait. I have in my mind a not-so-firm "deadline" for continuation of the pilgrimage: the end of this month of August. If it is not ready to go by then, well...

My disappointment is real enough, but it is bounded by my new-found sense of "living in the present," not fretting about what I can't control, as well as by the on-going encouragement of my friends, particularly Gene and Caroline Foley. "Don't give up yet!" they tell me. "You still have plenty of time to accomplish MOST of your mission, if not all of it!" They are absolutely right and I am so appreciative of their cheering me on.

So, Santiago, Jacques, Big Jim: if you want me to keep on walking your way, fix this thing! If not, I'll find other ways to stay connected to you and your Way during these precious months with nothing else to do but be a pilgrim...or help your pilgrims.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A "Vermeerish" Weekend

Waterloo. So what does a pilgrim on medical hiatus do to fill the time for fifteen days? Well, he reads, of course; (I just finished a delightful little novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, about a fifteen year old boy suffering from a form of autism). But even reading can grow tiresome day after day so if the sidelined pilgrim has some good friends, he is well advised to take up their invitation to a weekend jaunt to some wonderful place filled with new things to taste and see. Such was my good fortune over the past weekend! Gene and Caroline Foley, ever attentive to caring for me in my present circumstances, welcomed me to join them for a little trip up to Caroline's hometown in Holland, Den Haag ("The Hague" in English). We left Leuven on Saturday morning quite early and headed north. We stopped in Gouda, the big cheese of Dutch towns, had lunch there and enjoyed walking its market and along its picturesque canals (well, sort of walking, in my case...the cast slowing me down considerably on the cobbles!). We bypassed the big city of Rotterdam and got to Den Haag in time to do a bit of grocery shopping and then settled into the home of Caroline's son, Koen, who with his children, is presently on vacation in Iceland.
The highlight for me of our weekend foray into the Netherlands was Den Haag's Mauritshaus, filled to its gills with great artistic treasures; here you find Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer in just the right doses: enough to awe, but not so much as to overwhelm. I was especially thrilled to be able to enjoy for the first time Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring" and his "View of Delft." What extraordinary works! That mysterious girl is as "alive" today as she was when Vermeer painted her; you almost feel you could have a good chat with her! The sky and special light playing over the town of Delft captured in Vermeer's oils and brush strokes in his other masterwork in the Den Haag museum was evident in the real world as we drove through the countryside yesterday, casually working our way back to Belgium. Being so close to the sea the blue of the sky has a silvery undertone to it and the light of day adds a shimmering quality to everything it touches, especially the waters of the North Sea and the inland harbors ; what kind of word can you find to characterize this light? About all I can think of is "Vermeerish". Before we got serious about returning to Belgium, we passed a couple hours in the late morning wandering about the university town of Leiden, which reminded us all of our own Leuven, though with a Dutch touch. A bit of my own national history is noted there: the famouns Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock spent several years in Leiden before heading across the sea to North America and the first Thanksgiving.

So now that I'm back in Waterloo for a few more days, I'll start a new book (an early novel of Iris Murdoch), and begin planning the next "etapes" of my pilgrimage south, from Tonnerre, where I left off, to Vezelay, one of the great French towns associated with the pilgrimage to Compostela since the early middle ages. The cast on my leg will come off on Friday of this week and, presuming all is well, I should be back in France and ready to begin walking again on Monday (again with the help of the Foleys who have offered to drive me back down to Tonnerre). Vezelay will be about three days of walking further on, if I go my own route rather than the much longer "official GR". So that is next on my rather wide-open agenda: mapping out my way on the Way. I feel it already: it will be good to be back!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Like Missing a Friend

Waterloo. I am now well into the midst of my "medical hiatus" and though the cast around my lower leg is a nuisance for its clumsiness I am fine and being well-tended to. Fr. Vince's rectory is quiet, comfortable and cozy, perfect for reading and resting. Both yesterday and today have been gray days with heavy clouds overhead, and today's weather has been additionally marked by a constant drizzle. I am happy to be indoors and dry. Unlike the forests I've wandered through in the past month, there is no slippery mud to navigate my way through in this house, but the tight stairway between floors is not so easy either with this cast making every step something to be tended to consciously.
Beneath the surface of this present contentment, though, there is the quiet unease of a sort of loneliness that comes from feeling distance from a friend. The friend in this case is my road and my walking. I miss it. I am a bit lonely for its company. My legs at night are restless in bed, twitching this way and that as I fall asleep, unhappy at not having worked enough during the day, wanting to be pilgrim legs again. I never thought of the Way as a friend before, but that is what it has become; with its fields and vineyards and deep dark woods, with its kind people who greet me and say to me "Courage!", even with its unexpected ups and downs and tough moments, it is a friend now and it is not so easy to be separated from the constant company it has afforded me for so many days. As with all friendships, this time apart reveals my fondness for it and even deepens it. It is really a fondness for life, for simplicity, for freedom, for God's face revealed in the details of leaf, soil, sky, flesh, words of welcome.
Some people here seem surprised that I want to go back and pick up where I left off, as if you could have enough of friendship. Others do everything possible to not let me even consider the possibility of not going back to Tonnerre to continue. I understand both because I have a lazy side and feel the attraction of stopping now even as I greedily want to know all the new riches that will be discovered and all the new graces to be experienced once I begin again.

I continue to be astonished at the number of people who are following this pilgrimage through this blog. Their e-mails to me are so encouraging and teach me so much. I received an especially wonderful one from John, a friend in Maryland and student of The American College in he '60's, who wrote yesterday:

From what I have learned about your
pilgrimage from you, if getting to or being at Compostela were the most important aspect of your journey, you would have taken a plane, train, bus, car, or even a bicycle ;-).
Once you decided to pilgrimage via foot and strapped on Gregory the Great, you
made the journey itself the most important aspect, accepting all the vagaries
that come with that way of the Way. Walking the pilgrimage expresses intense
physicality--one can almost feel the sweat from your writings--with its
heightened sacramentalism. Wherever you go, people will remember
'that American pilgrim priest'. If during the summer of 1964, people thought two
Americans on bicycles were a strange curiosity, I can imagine what they think of a walking American, especially an American priest. At the least, you will give those who meet you something to talk about--I am certain that those old ladies at the nursing home in Brienne-le-Chateau are still talking about that stranger who brightened and blessed their Friday in July. Once made, those encounters can become grace giving grace--a challenge to some and a comfort to others. What better way to share the blessings! Walk as far as you are able and use the slowness of foot to savor what comes your way.
You are not alone. Courage! John

Thanks, John! I will do my best. For now my pilgrimage is one of pause and waiting and letting this moment along the Way be grace upon grace too.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Two Week Layover

Leuven. The news from the Leuven orthopedist is mostly good: the left leg does not have a new fracture. There is an old one there, presumably the one the doctor in Tonnerre spotted, but it is almost certainly the remains of a skiing injury from almost thirty years ago. The real problem, is, in fact, a pretty serious case of tendonitis. The doc here recommended as the fastest way to have it heal having the leg in a cast for two weeks; that should do it, and thereafter, I should be ready to begin walking again. So the cast went on and I am now hobbling about with a fairly heavy load of fiberglass wrapped around my lower leg.
Right now the coming two weeks seems like an eternity to me, but the days will pass and perhaps I can get some good reading done. I'll do my best not to get anxious, nervous, or irritable in the days to come and just keep seeing even this as part of the pilgrimage, a twist I didn't expect, certainly, but just as much an "etape" on the Way as everything else I've experienced thus far.
Now, it is out for pizza dinner in Leuven with the few seminarians still floating around this otherwise very empty American College.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

No Storm Can Shake My Inmost Calm...

Waterloo, Belgium.

Waterloo??? This is a long way from Tonnerre both geographically and spiritually, and it still remains something of a surprise to me that I am almost back where I began a month ago. El Camino, le Chemin, the Way, has its own way, with plenty of twists and turns and new beginnings, this I am learning. Surprise is as much a part of this Way as knowing the next step; in fact, I believe it is more a part of the Way than having a clear and certain path ahead. Almost everything about the pilgrim's way is a matter of NOT knowing what is ahead, learning to live peacefully in this ambiguity, and being constantly surprised by what turns up: catastrophe or grace or, most usually, both at the same time.
So this week's "catastrophe," (a favored word among the French to describe such things, I have come to discover), brought on by a cranky tendon and the goofy diagnosis of a very goofy village doctor, (my opinion at the moment...we'll see tomorrow if I am right or owe the man an apology), is also a great grace. In these days away from the walking part of the pilgrimage, I am resting, recuperating, and best of all, reflecting, that is, having the time and space to let the experience thus far soak in, begin seeing its patterns, feel it at work in my innards, deepening me, changing me, creating something new in me. Take fretting, for example: in the early days, heavens, did I fret! All I could see ahead were potential problems, worst case scenarios, "what if this..." and "what if that..."; that worrisomeness, that disposition to expect the worst, that awful fretting that has been such a big part of my life for so long, seems to have been cleansed from my mind and heart over the past thirty days or so. This I only notice now that I am here, on leave from the daily regime of walking, walking, walking, though it is the "walking, walking, walking" that has done this.
Then there is the opportunity now to step back and remember the faces and voices and gestures of kindness of so many whom I have met along the way. Their smiles, the glint in their eyes, their enthusiastic support expressed so often in the lovely word (as it is pronounced in French) , "Courage!" come together in my imagination in a single collage of images that brings me joy and gratitude. This communion of saints along the Way makes the more full communion of saints that we profess each time we say the Creed, the great cloud of witnesses that St. Paul writes about, becomes as real and corporal as the flower lady at the Eglise de Notre-Dame in Tonnerre, who came up to me as I sat resting in the cool and quiet of the church on Friday morning waiting for my ride back to Belgium, and assured me with the most kind smile possible, that it was okay for me to "repose" in the church as long as I wished. These people are saints. For their goodness and attentiveness to weary pilgrims, they bind themselves to Jesus' body and together, without even knowing one another, they form one body, one communion, one church. What a tender joy it is to be part of this body, too.
And then there is prayer out there. It comes in so many ways on the Way. Having a hymn roll around over and over again for days in the back of my head, sometimes retreating into the subconscious where dreams are concocted, other times coming to the fore of consciousness, but there all the time: "...there is power, power, power in the blood...in the blood of the Lamb! There is power, power, power in the blood...in the blood of the Lamb!" This is fine prayer. There is the silver rosary that my fingers work their way along in the early morning freshness, the Hail Mary's keeping time with my booted footsteps and the passing of white dashes in the center of the road. There is the exclamation, "Oh my Jesus!," exploding from my guts with each extremely painful, tendonitisized step along the twelve kilometers between Bragelogne to Etourvy. Those exclamations were not a taking of the name of the Lord in vain, but a prayer to the Lord to get me through one more step...and one more step...and one more step. I didn't see it at the time, but I do now.
So my friend, Father Vincent Chavez drove down to Tonnerre from Waterloo on Friday morning and met me in the center of town at about 11:30 and after having an early lunch there, we got in his car and headed back to Belgium. Somewhere between Tonnerre and Troyes, we saw a highway sign indicating that ahead was an eglise with three sanctuaries. We both thought it would be fun to stop and see whatever this odd description of a church might be. So when we got to Isle-Aumont, Vince pulled into the village center and parked in front of a rather ordinary looking village church. From the outside, not much to see. Its doors were locked so we wandered about the church yard a bit and peered in through the keyholes to see what we were missing on the inside. Then an elderly lady approached carrying mops and brooms and offered to open it up for us and show us around. It was a remarkable and beautiful place, far beyond either of our expectations. Bits of it go back to the 5th century and the Merovingians, other pieces are Carolingian, including an altar stone set in place as it was in the 8th century. A scallop shell indicating its history as a church visited by pilgrims to Compostela was carved into the base of a stone column. But best of all for me was the armless corpus of the crucified Jesus from the 13th century. His face and particularly his closed eyes expressed pure tranquility in his agony. That tranquility made sense to me. I felt it. I loved it. In some small way, it is mine now. This too is prayer. This is the Jesus I know and love and with whom I walk. He is teaching me things I didn't know I needed to learn. "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging..." That song too rolls around in my head now and in my imagination it is the Christ of Isle-Aumont that I see when I sing it.
So tomorrow it is off to the doctor I go. I hope for good news and a return to the walking part of my pilgrimage, but whatever happens, walking on or no walking on, grace upon grace is what is ahead. Of that I am sure.
A final word of thanks to Fr. Vincent for taking a day to drive to Tonnerre to "rescue" me and for welcoming me into his home here in Waterloo as a brother and a friend. His kindness to me is part of the pilgrimage, too.
Waterloo??? It is a surprise to be here, certainly; but in pondering it a while, it is not so far from Tonnerre after all.

Friday, August 3, 2007


What was a little bit worrisome pain in my leg on Wednesday became a pilgrim catastrophe on Thursday. Every step on my 12km. walk was very painful. When I reached Etrouvy, I asked about seeing a doctor, with the hope of just getting some strong medicine to care for the blazing tendon. The good lady in charge of the Foyer where I had stopped drove me to Tonnerre, the nearest town with a hospital. After much waiting and then X-rays, the doctor told me to STOP WALKING for a month.
He said there is a small fracture in the leg bone. As I said, catastrophe! I don’t really believe the doc; I still think it is tendonitis, but will go back to Leuven today to play it safe and get a second opinion. If all is well, I’ll return to this point and recommence the pilgrimage. If it is a fracture, then the walking part of the pilgrimage ends here today. I’m feeling surprisingly peaceful about all this, at least for the moment; maybe the 500+ kms of solitude and prayer and dependence on God and the kindness of so many strangers have had its effects…. I’ll write more from Leuven.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Sunshine prevails for another day, but also as the day lengthens it becomes very warm for walking. For no good reason, a tendon in my left leg began to heat up as well and is quite sore tonight. Walking 25 kms didn’t help, but tomorrow will be a light day. Weather report for tomorrow has rain and lightning, but I hope it won’t happen. Two Belgian pilgrims are here in the gite as well.


There is nothing quite as sweet in the life of a pilgrim as being received by friends along the way. Such was yesterday’s grace when I came walking down the Rue Haute of Courtenot to find my friends Fr. Chavez and Madame Mimi Solvay standing on the corner of the Solvay country home waving and cheering me on the last few meters of the day’s walk. What a joy to be embraced by old friends again and escorted like an arriving prince into the foyer of a beautiful old home. Mimi and Vincent had both driven from Brussels just to greet me as I arrived in this lovely village. Lunch was served (accompanied by champagne!), Mimi showed me around her beloved gardens, then departed for Brussels, while Vincent remained to spend a rest day with me here. We drove up to Troyes to visit the beautiful cathedral there and spent the rest of today quietly enjoying the hospitality of the Solvays. Tomorrow, it is back to the life of a pilgrim,
but with body rested, clothes laundered, (including Gregory the Great), and the grace of friendship sustaining me.