Santiago de Compostela

One year ago today, I walked into Santiago. As this anniversary has been approaching, I have been feeling my desire to walk my next Camino increasing. God willing, I’ll walk either the Norte or the Portuguese routes in the next year.

For today, though, I just smile as I remember the gratitude and joy of that day. I remember and say a prayer for all of my fellow peregrinos.

Here is what I wrote last year on the evening of my arrival in Santiago:

I arrived at the central square in front of the cathedral in Santiago at ten o’clock this morning. I walked the last 10.5 kilometers, as I did much of yesterday, with my friend Beth, Jack (from Ireland), Hans (from the Netherlands) and Jed (from Seattle). As we stood taking in the sight of the cathedral, there was not a dry eye among us.

After we simply stood there a while, someone took this picture for us:


After a brief visit to the Cathedral to say a prayer of thanksgiving, we went to the pilgrim reception office to pick up our Compostela signifying our completion of the Camino. (As I went to the counter and handed my pilgrim credentials to the person behind the counter, I burst into tears.). After securing a place to stay, we went to the noon pilgrim mass.

Imagine my delight when the celebrants processed in and I recognized one of them. George Witt, SJ, one of my former spiritual directors and the person who guided me through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, had led a NY group that walked the last 100 kilometers of the route I walked and they arrived in Santiago yesterday afternoon.

It was incredibly special to (quite unexpectedly) be here in Santiago with someone who has played such a vital role in my spiritual journey. What a gift!

Here are George, Noelle (a long-time friend from St. Ignatian retreat house), and me at lunch after mass:


Tomorrow I will wander around Santiago, go again to the pilgrim mass and spend some more time at the cathedral. Thursday I will put my hiking shoes and pack on again for another 4-5 days of walking to Finisterre and Muxia. Although some are content to end their walking here in Santiago, I feel the need (as do many others) to walk to the ocean. So that is what I will do. (Heck- what is another 115-120 kilometers after you’ve already walked 790?)


Walking the Camino

One year ago today, I took my first steps out of St. Jean Pied de Port along the Camino Francais route of the Camino de Santiago.

Many of you who are regular readers followed the blog posts I occasionally wrote along the way to Santiago and on to Finisterre, so you know what a powerful experience the Camino was for me. Arriving in Santiago after almost 500 miles of walking was amazing and deeply emotional.

Almost from the time I returned, I began thinking about my next Camino. Lately those feelings have grown stronger, doubtless because of the approach of this one-year anniversary. I still can’t decide between walking the Camino Portuguese or the Camine del Norte, but I do plan on walking one of them.

For today, however, I just give thanks that I was able to take the time to walk the Camino, that I had so many friends and family members praying for and otherwise supporting me along the way, and that it was such a wonderful experience.

For those who may be interested, upon my return last year, I gave a talk at the law school on Lessons from the Camino. You can listen to a podcast of my talk and see a short slide show of some of the pictures I took here.

My Camino Saint

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. James, apostle and martyr.

There are several references to James and his brother John in the Gospel in which he doesn’t appear so admirable. One is today’s Gospel reading where his mother approached Jesus with her sons asking that they “sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom,” causing the other apostles to become “indignant at the two brothers.” Another is when he wants Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan town that failed to offer them a proper reception, perhaps one of the incidents that caused Jesus to call him and his brother Boanerges – “Sons of Thunder.”

But James responded to Jesus’ call, dropping everything to follow him. And he was one of the first to follow Jesus to his death; James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I.

Tradition holds that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain and that, after his death in Judea, his remains found their way to Galicia in Spain, and they were later moved to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

When I arrived at the Catheral after walking the 500 mile Camino Francais from St. Jean Pied de Port, I visited first the large bust of St. James that sits high behind the main altar and then the crypt with his coffin below the altar.

I don’t know if James is really buried in that crypt. When I knelt there that’s what I pretty much said to him: “I have no idea if your remains are here or not, James, but I’m here, so let’s talk.”

Buried there or not, James is the patron saint of Spain and special friend to pilgrims on the Camino. And so on this day I honor James and ask for his friendship and inspiration. And I ask for his alacrity in following Jesus, and his strength to do so to the death.

Music and the Camino

For the last two days, I’ve been listening to a CD by Oliver Schroer titled Camino, which was waiting for me when I arrived home, a gift from my friend Gene. Schroer walked the Camino during May and June of 2004, carrying his violin with him. In various churches, he stopped and played his violin, recording himself with equipment he also carried.

I’ve very much enjoyed listening to Schroer’s music both for itself and for its bringing to mind the ways music was part of my Camino. I thought of:

the children’s choir that sang at the very last Mass I attended in Spain, at a small church in Finisterre. The joyful beautiful voices of the children brought incredible life to the service. I felt that everyone in the church was engaged in a way I do not always experience at Mass.

the man I saw in the church in Astorga, who started singing a hymn in an almost empty church. His beautiful voice stopped everyone dead in their tracks. He explained that, where possible, he sings in every church he goes into, so that he can hear the sound of the church.

the sing-along at the monastery in which I stayed in Carrion. When we arrived, we were told that there was music as 6:00. Two local girls came in with their guitars and the sisters handed out sheets with lyrics of songs from multiple languages. We didn’t stop singing until a song in the language of every person there had been sung, an exercise that established a lovely sense of community.

the woman’s voice I heard as I stood in a field next to the shell of an old church. She stood at an open window singing into the building and her voice reverberated all around.

the young man from France, with his sweet singing voice, who serenaded us after dinner at the albergue in Herrerias, accompanying himself on a guitar.

and, although not with the same beauty as these others, I smile as I think of Damion and I raising our spirits during our 32 kilometer walk in pouring rain by belting out as many lines as we could remember of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

None of these will ever make it to a CD, but each of them, in their own way, enhanced my Camino experience.

St. James and the Camino de Santiago

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. James. What always comes first to my mind when I think of James is his ambition. He’s the one that wanted to be head of the class, first in line, seated at the right hand of Jesus in heaven.

But more interesting to me is the traditional assertion that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain. It is also believed that after his execution by Herod, his body was somehow miraculously translated to the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela, a famous pilgrimage spot – the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James).

The authenticity of the relic of St. James in Compostela has been questioned and there seems to be reason to doubt that St. James ever made it to Spain. Still, thousands of people each year make their way along the Camino. My friend Maria has done it; my friend Michael plans to do it this fall and it is one of my great desires is to do the same once my daughter is finished high school and off in college.

What explains that? I don’t think it is at all about St. James and his relics. I don’t think it matters a whole lot to me whether he was in Spain or not or whether his relics are there now.

I think it is more that pilgrims have been making their way along that route for more than 1000 years. I say pilgrims, although many of the people who have walked the route did not set out on a spiritual journey. (Not surprisingly, they say it ended up being a spiritual jouney.) Maybe it goes back to the Exodus metaphor I talked about two days ago – we know we are on a journey and there is something about pilgrimage – about walking a holy trail that others have walked before us that draws us. And so on this feast of St. James, I remind myself that I will walk the Camino