When one sets a goal, and visualizes the completion, generally there is great joy and satisfaction upon reaching that physical, mental or spiritual ‘destination’. Catherine and I had walked the French Way Camino in 2014, with the goal being Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St. James remains. When we reached that destination we had different reactions. Catherine was overwhelmed with joy to visit the Cathedral and see all the St. James memorabilia. I, on the other hand, felt a bit overwhelmed and disoriented by all the hoopla in the square fronting the Cathedral and adjoining streets. Whatever solitude I had been able to reach was eroded by the loud noises, crowds and snapping cameras.
So as I woke early this morning, partly by the sound of pouring rain and partly by anticipation of reaching Santiago, I wasn’t sure how I would feel this time around. I walked the short 15 km solo in off and on rain, encountering some of my favorite things…bird song filling the air, fog over fields before the rising sun burned it off, small running brooks, blooming flowers…and stray kitty cats. All of those were gifted to me this morning. The Lord has been generous with me on this Camino.
I knew I was getting close when I passed a Way marker that showed <5 km to Santiago, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of the first sighting of the city in the distance. It was pure, unadulterated joy. That’s hard to find in this ‘instant gratification’ world we live in. I had worked hard for that view, just as we had done in 2014. My beat up feet, sore knees and back, and mental exhaustion was the price I paid. I would do it again. Unqualified. I experienced another emotion a couple hundred yards later. I had rounded a corner and headed severely uphill with the view of Santiago now to my back, and I was not looking forward to the thigh burn from the climb…I wanted that view again…NOW. But since the Lord MADE ME slow down on that climb, I decided to take the time to thank Him for allowing me to arrive safely and for all the pilgrims and angels I had met along my Way. It was then I had a burst of genuine love…for my Catherine, and for our 3 children. I can’t express the power of pure love, but you all have surely felt it. A welcomed joy.
So when I reached the Old Town section of this ancient city, the streets narrowed, the cobblestone streets echoed the voices of pilgrims, and the energy of the area was undeniable. This entry to the Cathedral was completely different than the one from the French Way, but both are special in their own way. It was easy to follow the tall spires of the Cathedral to her steps, and…I was BACK! It felt so good this time. I know I was by myself, but St. James made sure that Catherine was by my side, hand in hand, as I scaled the steps to the grand entrance. Thank you honey for being at my side.
Since I left Teo so early, arriving in Santiago around 10:45 am, I decided to go in to the Cathedral and secure a good seat for the 12 noon Pilgrim Mass. Mission accomplished as I was in the 4th row from the front of the altar, with a straight on view of the large statue of St. James behind the altar. They keep the church very cold to counter the throngs of people crowding every Mass, and as I was still a bit wet from walking in the rain, I had a chatter to my teeth and chill to my limbs. As Mass began, it was certainly worth it. There had to be 12 priests concelebrating the Mass, and certainly no need for EMHC! Although it was in Spanish, the beauty of the Catholic Mass is it’s consistency and tradition, making it easy to follow. As the conclusion was near, 8 men in garnet velour robes came in and assumed positions around the then still Botafumeiro…a large silver colored incense burning Orb…and proceeded to fill it with incense, light it, and start the most awesome display of pulling down hard on ropes wrapped around pulleys to get the Botafumeiro swinging from side to side. You can almost feel the air sucked out of the church as the attendees look on in awe. It’s an experience I hope you all get to in your lifetime.
The Botafumeiro in action. Remarkable…truly.
So what now? Unlike most pilgrims who hurriedly fly home and step back into the shock of their lives left temporarily behind, I arranged my trip to enjoy a 2nd full day in Santiago. I intend to go back to the Cathedral for Mass and to really walk the inside and take in all the St. James lore. I’d also like to walk the bustling streets, visiting any shop that catches my eye for potential souvenirs, and most certainly take in a couple cafe con leches and pastries. Then I’m off to the Finisterre Way…another 87 km added to the 372 km just completed. I arrive in Finisterre on May 11, my 63rd birthday. A fine gift indeed for this aging pilgrim. I’ll be alone for dinner that evening, but I’ll most certainly feel the love from my family and friends, even in their absence. This last leg of my pilgrimage stands to be the most reflective yet, as very few pilgrims continue on this trek by foot, so it has every opportunity to be the most profound. That’s my hope. That’s my prayer. Buen Camino!