The following is another installment in the series from Fr. Edward Hopkins LC, about 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 friends in Christ,
As in life, I am catching up on our adventure here in Spain. I have kept you all very much part of my steps. There is a tradition here where people leave small stones on top of the mile (kilometer) markers symbolizing the intentions that they carry with them. Well, I have you all in my intentions, my souls… in fact at times I even remember you by name as I stop to stoop down and gather more rocks or to place one on top of the markers.
Well, we left the town of Pontevedra a little earlier than our past departures. Thank God since this day will be a long 23 kilometer walk. The pilgrimage has progressed with many blessings. We are certainly feeling more tired but walking most of the day has a way of invigorating the spirit and keeping you awake! Our weather has been unbelievably excellent! We were expecting rain this morning but it cleared up by the time we began to pound the pavement. In fact, today we were blessed with even more dirt paths (my favorite – since the pavement definitely is felt more readily in the feet and the knees. I am holding up so far) as well as shady trees covering most of the way…. thank you Lord for the shade.
Yesterday, I felt bad because our young friends failed to join us for Mass. I wasn’t entirely surprised since they were as exhausted or more than, having traveled since Porto, which will end up being 220 kilometer journey for them, not to mention that Elena has not been in Church for a while. But God blessed us with another couple on our path. I was just finishing my meditation, actually felt more like a contemplation… I was almost floating along enjoying the sights of nature, the overhanging eucalyptus trees and foresty ferns… the scents of the eucalyptus reminded me of my old college campus of Thomas Aquinas in California… when two of our group, Charlie and Maria called back to me – they are always ahead of us setting a real good pace, but also giving us a beautiful example of a couple that walks and prays together (in life as well as on the Camino). When I joined them they introduced me to a young Italian couple (Maria and Charlie being of Italian descent can speak and understand the language) walking along with them, Francesco and Donatella. They have been traveling a long way since Porto; this is day 10 for them. Donatella has her ankle wrapped but keeps going. Well, she really wanted to talk.
So I lent her my ear as we went forward. She has a very deep spiritual soul and being an artist has received some beautiful images from the Lord. I encourage her to continue to seek and develop the inspirations and messages she has perceived of late… they may well be from the Lord. She also seems to be searching. I think she and Francesco, in their 30s, seem to have begun to date some months back. She suggests that she has some issues with the Church, like many young adults, but I don’t sense that she is far from Christ and his Church. She is very grateful for our visit and as we enter the final kilometers she and Francesco fall off the pace. We hope to see them in Caldes de Reyes when we arrive and find our typical spot waiting for the rest of our group on the Camino at a restaurant near the entrance to the town/city. But they never show up. In fact we actually make our way into the town itself to find a better place to eat. Seafood is plentiful and delicious in these near costal towns! The meat is very good too. And ice crème is always on the menu for desert!
The final couple of our group joins us, having already eaten along the way. We share stories and rest our feet as we try to recover from the long trek. I am a little disappointed that again I failed to find a way to pray with our new young friends or to even share information so to stay in touch. The city/town is too big to expect to easily encounter them again; (though I kind of hope against hope… if God wants it). Oh well, such is life. God often brings us together to simply plant a seed and then we move on. Even Jesus and his disciples did this often. St Paul though found a way to stay in touch with his spiritual children. I wish I were more like him.
Well, the Lord has a way of surprising us. As we are finishing our lunch who walks by us but our first friends, Andres and behind him Elena! We all share a joyful greeting. Turns out that she was so tired and sore that she simply crashed in Pontevedra the day before and couldn’t manage to walk to the other side of the city to join us for Mass. OK, so you’ll have to join us today! We agreed on a time and place near where they are staying, even though I have not had a chance to secure a permission yet. Trust…
I soon walked ahead with Charlie to find and secure the Mass site. We climb the stairs to reach the huge Romanesque Church… doors closed… talked to neighbors, even rang the bell – a real bell that was loud enough to call a whole monastic community together…one twice, three times… nothing. No sign of life. We tried our best but could not get anyone to come to the door… late siesta? Turns out that there is only one Dominican on duty there and he is close to 90!
I wanted to do Mass there since that is where we agreed to meet with Andres and Elena. Just then we meet a fellow pilgrim, a young Franciscan. Yes, he is wearing his robes all the way from Porto, Portugal. (I am traveling in lighter gear!) He is from there, traveling with a small group of young adults and about a year away from ordination. Hermano Miguel is full of life, very outgoing and friendly. Well, he has heard about the plan for Mass from our friends. So together we set out to find a church after unsuccessful attempts at awaking the old Dominican. We cross back over the river and find another large Church waiting for us. It happens to be very special – having a large stone under the altar on to which the boat that brought St James to be buried in Santiago was said to be moored. Unfortunately we find more obstacles – is this not our daily life! The power is out and they are working on it. The church janitor is an older man with a very rough Spanish character. He gives us no hope of doing Mass there: the priest is out, no light… and there are two women preparing for a choir practice. “Forget it!” Hmmmm… My Franciscan friend (capuchin), Miguel, then goes into action. “This man is not the one who will get us permission… I will go and talk with the young ladies preparing for choir practice.” I stayed in the pews to pray for a little miracle… I think God wants us to have Mass…. And why not use the Franciscan charism to get it done!
The young ladies call the pastor. He has arrived by at the rectory and will be right over. He gives us permission as long as we start soon and don’t mind the lack of light. No problem, my kindle will give me the Mass parts and readings for today! Charlie arrives back with the rest the group and Br. Miguel returns with a young Portuguese priest and the rest of their group (7 or 8). So we celebrate Mass in both languages, with Portuguese singing, two “short” homilies (really!) and so many graces! I even attempt some prayers in Portuguese, since I am celebrant. Before finishing Mass I have noticed Andres sitting with our group but also Elena sitting back behind everyone. She is coherent at least as she is still finding her way back to God and her Catholic Faith. After Mass there is not much time. We need to set off for our lodging. But this time I don’t miss the chance. Our group together prays over Elena and I give her a blessing. She seems appreciative and receptive… another step on her path? Another seed to be nurtured by God with time and more journeys… I am at peace. I am sure that she in on the path, his path!
Well, this is getting too long to be a blog or a brief note or update. But again it is just a sign of how much God is with us, blessing us and leading us. Thank you again for all your prayers. It is working! Keep them coming. We pray for you all and offer our steps and efforts for your intentions!
Yours in Christ,
Fr Edward Hopkins, LC