Back home safe and sound. Grateful to Divine Providence Who granted us safe travels and wonderful family time. Aware that not everyone can scratch that travel itch. Praying for safe arrival in that heavenly homeland that contains all beautiful places, more real than these shadows. Pray we all meet there. Pax.
More Vienna today. The first photo is a poster near our apartment of our beloved president giving the Statue of Liberty the beating she deserves. After that, walking, shopping, hitting Peterskirche (where I was able to go to confession), touring the Hofburg (photos not allowed), and visiting Stephansdom, where we walked verically, 343 steps. Along the way, I was delighted to find that we haven’t escaped the Camino, as we twice encountered signs that we were on the Way of St. James. Wish I could keep going…
Photo from the Camino forum.
A blessed feast day to all of you.
“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” — C.S. Lewis
Yes, Galicia: a land with an antediluvian soul whose splendor endures right up to present times. Its valleys, forests, villages, rivers and standing stones, shady corbels, rough walls, centuries-old chestnut trees, the Celtic feel that fills the atmosphere, its gentle rain that returns the present to the past… they work together to form an identity that permeates everything. Galicia! I’ve crossed into Galicia, and it’s broken into me.
I feel I’ve undergone another transformation, possibly the last one, in my evolution as a walker. Maybe it happened overnight, or today, on the way up this mountain. Or perhaps whatever I started in the mountains of León is finished now. I’m not sure if it’s an improvement, but I don’t care. I have assimilated my own smallness, my lack of understanding, my weakness and poverty of spirit. I’ve stopped fighting against myself. I’ve given myself absolution. The essential, unanswerable questions, the unreachable quests lose their validity. My insides are filled with a serene, calm sea, like the valley below, released from the action of the wind. The force that drew me on toward Compostela has turned inward and settled down into my soul. I do not need to arrive any more. The only transcendence is what I see, what I experience in the step that I’m taking right here, right now. My journey is made of pure steps. I have emptied myself, I am so immensely emptied that I feel it as a satisfied fullness.
Galicia begins, and my journey ends. I still have a few days left, as long as the Coroner allows it. Days of clear perception. My journey begins to wind up.
But this is no place for solemnity! Life is beautiful, and I am a boy child in the promised land! I think about standing in the lee of the statue to escape the wind, but of course that is not way to get ahead.
— The Great Westward Walk: From the Front Door to the End of the Earth, by Antxon González Gabarain
Recall my previous post on Storming into Sigueiro? I included some photos, but nothing that could capture the wind. Well, take a moment now and thank Ed, whose videos you see here killed his phone. That led to the great phone replacement expedition of Santiago 2018, which is now hazy in remembrance and may soon be lost to the mists of time.
I have been meaning to write this post about our arrival in Santiago de Compostela, the activities there, and some of my feelings on the enterprise. I didn’t want to end as just a travelogue, but I also wanted to avoid some kind of blogform emoticon.
After the Camino, our little party flew on to Venice so we could visit our son, who is studying here. So between touristing and visiting it has been hard to find the time. So, I’ll begin now and see where it leads.
We walked the Camino Inglés, which you can see on the above map of routes through Galicia begins in Ferrol on the Northwest coast of Spain and continues Southwest to Santiago, joining up with its other arm coming from La Coruña, just past Hospital de Bruma. We took it in six days.
The Camino was more difficult physically than I imagined, though given relative health and a will to do the thing, it was not overly hard, all things considered.
We encountered physical and meteorological challenges about which I’ve already written. Spiritually, it was incredibly satisfying, though there were challenges there, too.
On the one hand, you would think you have nothing but time for thought, prayer and contemplation. And you do. But the physical exertion required at many points makes contemplation impossible. And the immediacy of the situation, having little to veil yourself from the presence of God— it’s you, the trail, and God, and that all the time you walk. It is an inexpressible joy, but can also be intimidating.
So in the end I prayed. I offered up suffering. I begged forgiveness, sought help, and asked for miracles. Perhaps the best thing was the ability to see myself for what I really am, and to be humbled by the love of God, His beauty as seen through the majesty of creation, in the charity of others, and in the companionship of wife and friends.
I prayed more, with our group and alone. We began each day by reciting the pilgrim’s prayer. We prayed the Angelus at noon. We tried to pray all 15 decades of the Rosary each day. We assisted at Mass three of the evenings. My wife and I tried to pray compline at night. And there were lots of other times to rest in God.
We either followed the above regimen or, if weather or fatigue prevented such, I filled gaps on my own. Prayer came naturally, because it was what seemed so obvious. We had to walk and pray.
And there was ample opportunity to put virtues into practice— or fail to do so. To practice charity— or not. Within the group and without. I saw failures, and also successes.
As I’ve written so often in earlier posts, the Camino is a metaphor for life. I had many failures in my Camino, and I saw many successes. And like in life, I felt the hand of Our Lord and the care of Our Lady throughout.
We liked to say after every little signal grace or solved difficulty on the trail that “the Camino provides.” I saw that every day and felt it constantly. I kid you not.
I won’t get too Hallmark channel-ly on you, but will just relate one incident as indicative of the whole.
The night we arrived in Ferrol, bright and shiny and untested, we were approached by one of Europe’s ever-present beggars in front of the town hall. I gave him some money— I’m always reminded of Christ’s words, “Give to all who beg from you…”. Felt pretty good about myself.
But the next day, on the first morning of the Camino, nearing the same place while walking out of town I saw a beggar approaching and I literally turned my back and left him to beg from others in the group, thinking I had “done my share” the last night. After our party regrouped I learned that no one else had any cash to give the man, so he had gotten nothing.
It was then that the Lord’s words to the goats came as a stinging rebuke—“as often as you failed to do for the least of My brethren you failed to do for Me.” I thought about going back— and didn’t. It was likely too late by then anyway. So I made an act of contrition, and asked Mary to make good on what her worthless slave failed to do. And to make good when I could.
But I did not see another beggar during the rest of the Camino.
Not until, just at the end, quite near the Cathedral, Mary was kind enough to place in front of me the most disreputable looking person I saw in Spain, asking for money. I so gladly gave him the money I would have given the first beggar and then more, too. I felt so humbled and so grateful that Our Lady let put that right, and to have that peace just before the completion of my pilgrimage.
Metaphor for life? I pray for that same grace to put things right before the end of my earthly pilgrimage.
I’ll stop there. But there were so many other examples of God acting on our little way.
Coming into the Plaza of Glory, my wife and I did weep. I thanked God for letting me live to see that day. It was more and different than what I thought beforehand. Better. That’s all I want to say.
Because our hotel was on the square, we quickly dumped our bags there, then went to the pilgrim’s Office to receive our Compostelas (
partially pictured at top) and our certificates verifying the distance we walked: officially, 121 kilometers, which equals 75.18 miles—12.5 miles per day.
The best feeling is how all of us feel like we are now part of something so much bigger than us. Something historical, a participation in our Catholic heritage, a membership in a college of people who felt and answered the call to make pilgrimage.
So, if the Camino is a metaphor for life, I pray for the same fortitude and Divine help to finish it well, and reach the home God made for us in Heaven. I want to be a better man. It is God’s work, and I pray Him to do it. That this pilgrimage will not recede as a mere “bucket-list” tour. I still feel like a pilgrim. I am a pilgrim.
May Our Lady always be my sure guide. And may St. James pray for me.
I am grateful for my wife, and Ed and Maryrose, for their camaraderie and support. Thank you. And I am grateful to my children, family and friends who provided the essential logistical support, made due without us, or who just plain missed Mom and Dad. Your kindness is so appreciated. I love you all. And finally to those prayer warriors—so many!— who followed along with us as part of that Mystical Body, that Communion of Saints— who buoyed us constantly with their prayers. We felt them. Thank you!
And thank you for reading along the Way.
Greetings from Santiago de Compostela!
Substantive post to come.