Yesterday, I was feeling frisky of foot (possibly to attempt to put them in their place?) so I set out from Palas de Rei intending to find a spot to alight in Ribadiso de Baixo, the second to last stage on the Camino. But, (and I didn’t tell my feet this) I walked on, with ever-increasing hobble, to Arzúa, which is about 3 kilometers past Ribadiso. This made for a shorter day today, but my feet have produced a few more hotspots despite my best efforts to keep them dry and friction-free. Ah, well. I could have guessed I wouldn’t escape The Camino with glistening feet —heaven knows that the pilgrims of yore didn’t have multi-layered-vibra-shock-double-dismount-toe-pivot-push-away cushioning. I don’t know what I’m complaining about!
And so, here I am just getting into O Pedrouzo, the first “suburb” of Santiago, now resting after a brief walk of just 13 miles today. I was lamenting the fact that I might not be able to get to a Sunday Mass (and, as you’ll remember, my 9 pound Mass kit was not-exactly-regrettably the first thing to go into the box mailed ahead to Santiago). The Mass in Arzúa was at 10:30, which is much too late to leave to escape the sun – temps were around 33ºC (93ºF) and a bit more humid– and there’s no guarantee that a) there will be a functioning parish church in the next village and b) there will be a Mass time to accommodate pilgrims. This, of course, made me reconnect with the very real plight of my own parishioners who long for both a priest and a Mass time that is convenient for them. Spain seems to have a very similar problem. I don’t know what the vocations situation is in the region of Galicia (which, incidentally has the provincial coat of arms containing a chalice and host!), but I get the sense that most priests here have a circuit of 10 or so parishes that they have to cover. It made me appreciate the 3 parish cluster I presently serve much more. If I struggle to be present to my people as their needs require, I can only imagine how one priest for nearly a dozen parishes fares both for the shepherd and the flock! Mercifully, the place where I decided at random to stay happens to be right across from the parish church square. While they have a noon Mass (which I missed by about 30 minutes due to the Junta de Pieds Calamitoso or The Council of Calamitous Feet), they also anticipate that many pilgrims will want to receive The Gospel and The Eucharist before sweating into Santiago the following day. So, there’s a Mass 7 days a week at 7pm in the summer for pilgrims. I’m very grateful for this and hope I don’t oversleep my nap!
Interestingly enough, the entire Camino de Santiago goes well out of its way to pass, if not through the central plaza of the parish church and government building, then certainly close enough to it so the pilgrim can have a quick moment for rest and prayer. Of course, this is in no way surprising (although it might be for the post-modern, believes in everything and nothing, pilgrim whom I have encountered more often than not) because the entire focus of the Camino is traditionally a religious one. It passes by the churches and countless monasteries, convents, hermitages, and hospitals because these were the principle services of outreach for pilgrims carrying so many maladies, penances, and intentions. Over the centuries, certainly in our own time, this has declined and many of these once strong edifices representing faith in service to man has given way to a private sector, dare I say strictly business culture. Don’t get me wrong, I have rarely met a kinder people than those who make their living providing lodging and food to pilgrims, but the constant march of the Euro can sometimes overtake the original spiritual intent of The Way. They say “it is what you make it” but imagine churches, hospitals, habited monks and nuns, priests in collar, milling about their day-to-day. It would be a renewal of The Church throwing open the windows to let the world see inside. Perhaps then there would be an inclination to see Mother Church as more than that big, gold-leafed sanctuary which should probably just be sold off anyway.I kid you not, I’ve heard this sentiment more than once. I suppose that’s one of the things I take away from the Camino: a renewed desire to be present to the People of God, simply going about my day and hopefully sanctifying others by simply witnessing that Jesus is working in me and through my work. The pilgrims that have experienced monks and nuns on occasion who still run a few albergues have remarked that there is something enchanting and a little mysterious about why they live the way they do. That mystery is something we must deepen once again in the West!
So, the plan is to be up early for the last trek into Santiago with the intent of attending the Pilgrims’ Mass at noon at the Cathedral-Basilica. It may take me a bit to write about my thoughts and reflections, but I’ll be sure to at least get a picture up on social media so that you know I didn’t die in the last 500 meters.
Thanks for your prayers, and again I say yours will be carried with me and deposited at the relics of St. James and at the sacred altar of sacrifice in the Holy Mass.