The following is another installment in the series from Fr. Edward Hopkins LC, who is walking “The Camino de Santiago” the pilgrimage through France and Spain to the tomb of St. James in Compostela in northwest Spain. You can follow his blogs on the Regnum Christi New York Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RegnumChristiNY.
Dear family and friends in Christ,
I could not believe it is the last day of our Camino! It is a bitter-sweet kind of thing. Part of me is glad to finish (you know which part that is!) and part of me wishes it would continue. I am really beginning to get into the rhythm of walking and praying… my neck and even my back are hardly bothering me… and we can all use these graces!
We left for Santiago as early as we could. It is a sunny day again, maybe a little warmer, closer to 80. I have just a couple spiritual directions to finish as we set off. Walking and talking works. We visit some of the large Churches as we leave Padron. Most are closed but we pause for a photo and a prayer. Signs of the Apostle Santiago are more present and obvious. A large statue we pass may be either Santiago or the iconic pilgrim. We then make a snack stop, a now favorite means of perseverance, though each one’s intake varies. It is here that we are surprised again by a “chance” re-encounter with Camino friends.
As the last of us walk into the little snack bar, joyful greetings resound in different languages. I look up to see (friends) Donatella and Francesco. They never made it to the last town but stopped short due to her bad ankle but got on the road earlier than we did today. In good spirits and back to walking, they join us for the snack. He seems even more open and friendly than when we first met. After chatting, some translations and exchanging contact information and a group shot, we all set out again. I will not see them again until Santiago, but they travel with some of our group for much of the way.
After finishing the last spiritual direction and another unscheduled stop, I leave most of the group to catch up to Carlos. Although he is not running, he is walking along quickly. After a good distance, Carlos decides to take a detour since he has run out of water. I keep going since we are sure he will catch up quickly. But it takes longer, since he also gets water for his wife Maria and their daughter Victoria and takes time to get it to them. Meanwhile, I am walking along not too fast, enjoying the paths, now more road and the solitude.. so peaceful. I know that there is not much quiet Camino left and I want to soak in all I can and hear all He has to say.
As we get closer to Santiago, strangely enough the signs are fewer and less visible. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if I am on the right road. Maybe I was enjoying it too much and wandered off the path or missed a turn… So I stop on what seems a city street and ask a poor fellow sitting in the shade. He seems homeless and tells me that I am on course, just to keep going ahead into those woods. Before I move on I sit down to adjust my shoes and roll up my pants. It is getting hot. We continue to visit and he asks me for money, of which I have none. (I am never sure who to help and how much…) I tell him politely that I have nothing but I would like to give him the best I have – that is a blessing. He firmly rejects it: “No quiero bendicion.” I ask him why but he won’t give me an answer. I think maybe he feels it’s a poor substitute for what he most wants. He explains that he is out of work. I tell him I will pray he gets work, but he is not interested in that prayer either. He lives in Santiago but moves around a bit. More conversation reveals that he has no family. After trying in vain to encourage him, it is time for me to move on. But I tell him that even if he doesn’t want it, I will be praying for him. I bid him farewell and he gives me a friendly but short: “Buen Camino.” I must be sure to keep praying for him… since he has no family, I just became his brother. I think that is what Our Lord intended. (Wish I had some of that money…)
A good half hour later I find myself walking across a bridge with another, rather large city or at least suburbs sprawling in front of me. I believe it is Santiago… almost there. Well, not really. Most of the way has been uphill but the real test comes during the last few kilometers when you think you are closer than you are and it seems like you are climbing a mountain… and the streets really are uphill! Carlos catches up to me just before we begin this climb… so I can’t ease up now. None of those “yellow arrows” that were once so common to keep us on course. In fact, Evelyn’s comment to Steve when they reached this point has now become an epic quote: “Steve, find me an arrow!”
People respond to our questions and keep us on track as we push through the city. Pretty soon we are going down those old narrow streets, carved out hundreds of years ago when they must have looked wide to ancient eye… when we suddenly spot one of the Cathedral spires! This is going to be big.
Remember that the whole reason for doing the Camino is to reach the tomb of St James. In fact, the Camino became “THE Pilgrimage” back in the middle ages when pilgrimages to the Holy Land were no longer possible with the military rise and domination of Islam, and even Rome became too difficult and dangerous given the conflicts and wars there at that time. So Santiago became the place to go… the pilgrimage to do… for all of Europe, so that you could visit “the Tomb of the apostle”.
We walk into the square and I can’t even see it all at once, nor can the camera. We hear an incredible choir singing across the plaza. The city is full of culture and is not shy to share it… a lot of pilgrims! (Some say 1000 a day.) We decide to quickly go up the steps to see the inside the Cathedral before going to clean up at the hotel. It is as beautiful as I imagined but we’ll need more time to appreciate it all. For now I kneel down to pray for all of you for whom I have done this Camino and thank God for giving us the strength to do it. We’ve come home.
Again our special grace moment comes with Mass. We are here for the 7:30 vigil Mass. Our group gets split up but all make it to the Mass. I am able to go in time to ask to concelebrate. The Cathedral is full. The religious sister who helps there tells me that we are fortunate. Normally the famous giant Thurible (Incensor) is swung only regularly at the end of Sunday masses (the sweet smelling smoke symbolizing the prayers of the pilgrims ascending to heaven!) but this evening the church is full and we will see it done at the end of our Mass! Wow! Three to four feet tall, pulled up and down by about 7 or 8 men in robes, it swings back and forth the width as well as the height of the transept (the naves that make a cross with the length of the Cathedral). It is truly a sight! Even more importantly I am one of two priests present and able to concelebrate!! The Rector/pastor of the Cathedral asks me to do a couple prayers of the faithful in English as well as a part of the Eucharistic prayer. (I didn’t tell him there were only 8 of us… well, not counting you.) I am exhausted but I don’t faint. The Mass is beautiful.
Donatella and Francesco said they were not going to make Santiago today… Then Maria tells me that as they walked along she invited our Italian friends to join us for this Mass but they said they couldn’t. Then she pleaded saying that I would be concelebrating, even though Maria had no idea whether I would be able to or not… I guess given how God had blessed us up until then (at each MASS), she knew! So it seems Francesco and Donatella didn’t want to miss this. They didn’t. After Mass we gather and I am happy to see our friends and their smiles. And they loved the Mass… another seed, another step of faith, another grace!
I will have to write tomorrow to finish… there is so much. Sorry to not know how to keep this short. But you all know me. God bless you and your Caminos!
Yours in Christ,
Fr Edward Hopkins, LC