¡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!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Santiago, Day 5

Today was an "alone day" in Santiago: no friends, no guides, just me and the great company of saints who cheer us on from their side of the Kingdom of God. It has been most probably also my final full day in this city. I did my best to make the most of it in my own way and according to my own speed and tempo, just like the camino itself. I got business out of the way first by finding an orthopedic store and asking about a soft foot brace that is used during the night to stretch those aching foot tendons and thereby, hopefully, heal them. The man at the desk professionally dressed in a clean white smock had never heard of such a thing and offered me some silicon insoles instead. I didn´t buy them. I then walked across the street to a peluqueria and got my hair cut, a sort of contemporary living of the medieval custom of pilgrims burning their clothes as a sign of leaving behind their old lives and beginning a new one. The young lady behind the sheers took plenty off; my gray mop was everywhere when she was done. I felt rather like a shorn sheep; I don´t think my hair has been this short since I was a 11 year old on summer vacation. But the feeling of letting go of the old and looking forward with hope towards what is to come was real enough as I headed back up the hill towards the Cathedral of Santiago. I was there just in time for the noon pilgrim Mass, tucked into a pew and joined in the liturgy from the pilgrim side of the sanctuary. The aged priest who presided stepped forward after the Gospel reading and gave a stem-winder of a homily and it was good; who would have guessed he had so much passion in him! It lifted my spirits to watch him and listen to him preach the Good News with enthusiasm and fire. Afterwards, I stayed in the church for awhile, then after the crowds thinned, (to go to lunch, I suppose), I stepped back down into the crypt for a brief visit at Santiago´s relics. Then to lunch myself, a little rest in my room and back into town to visit a couple of museums before going back to the Cathedral for a more prolonged and serious visit. The crowds were pretty heavy since several tour groups had pulled in not long before I got there so I took my place in the area of the nave reserved for personal prayer (sort of) and just took a long time before the image of Santiago above the main altar, the one the pilgrims embrace from behind upon their arrival. Once again I thanked him for bringing me here and getting me as far as I got, for the blessings on the way, for keeping me from any real harm, and once again, I mentally read through my litany of intentions, all the people who have asked for prayers here. After a while, I decided it was time to fulfill one final pilgrim responsibility before leaving this special place. I pulled out of my synthetic wallet (what else but synthetic!) the cards and notes people back home had given me way back in the end of June just before I started walking, each with their own special intentions and prayers written on them. I had carried these little pieces of paper across more than a thousand two hundred kilometers on my back, then another thousand-five hundred by train and bus, and finally, again by foot, just a final kilometer or so from my hostel to the heart of this basilica. I read through each one of them again, kept them in my hand as I got up, walked over to the stairwell going up to the stature of Santiago, climbed the stairs, gave Santiago one more abrazo making sure the papers in my hand touched him, walked back down and down even further into the crypt, read them to him there again, then looked about for a discrete place to deposit them, as close to Santiago as I could get. I wandered around behind the altar keeping my eye open for some crack or chink or hidden little hole in the wall where I might set them, then directly behind the main altar and almost directly above the tomb, I noticed a large glass window separating the ambulatory of the apse from the back of the altar with a marble ledge beneath it on both sides of the glass. In the glass was cut a small opening just big enough for a hand to pass through, so with no one looking, I kissed them, slipped the cards and papers through that hole and tucked them into a corner where they would not be quite so easily seen. There, that job now done! I felt rather proud of myself for my cleverness and even more, I felt relieved at having delivered on the promise to bring those prayers to Santiago where he can attend to them from here on in.
So that´s been my day. I´m just about ready to move on from Santiago and the Field of Stars, but even as I do so I´m thinking about next spring when my feet and tendons will be all well again and before I have to be back home for good; hmmm... how about finishing this thing then, in the way I had intended, by walking from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, and then across Spain and back to Santiago. Anyone want to go along?