Camino de Santiago

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The Cows of Galicia

About a year ago on a sunny day I climbed into Galicia on the Camino and stayed on O’Cebreiro. I woke to a fog which turned into a driving rain.

The Camino follows farm roads which are also used by the local animals, with predictable results. I arrived in Triacastela in the rain and changed into dry clothes. I usually wore my sandals in the evening, but it was pouring. I therefore wore my boots to church.

The local church is one to Santiago. This photo shows it in a rare moment of sunshine. The building is black with lichen, moss, and small plants nourished by the perpetual rain.

I went into the cold, damp church; the priest arrived wearing a heavy down jacket and invited us to sit up in the choir stalls. As the pilgrims filled the sanctuary, a distinct odor of cow also permeated the church – but then He was born in a stable, so it was the first thing He smelled.

We sat around the altar in a cold twelfth-century Romanesque church with flickering candles and a barnyard odor. The priest came out and noticed that the Brazilian girl next to me was shivering. He went back and got his jacket for her. His warmth made us forget the chill of the church.

Jack Hitt wrote a book in the Camino, Off the Road, from which some of the funniest lines in The Way are taken. Jack did the Camino back in 1994, so the animal population has declined somewhat and facilities are much better, but the Camino is still very rustic.

I had deep sympathy with this passage from his book:

The only accessible roads are ox paths, all paved in squishy sheets of bovine and ovine dung. The village smells of fresh shit, quite piquant in the late morning. Parked at the front door of each house is an ox, who welcomes us by evacuating his bowels in a small explosion. At the occasional post is tethered a cow who also seems genuinely excited by our arrival and speaks oxen. Scrawny dogs howl at our approach, scampering along and then slip-sliding in an impressive 180-degree halt. Chickens flit along the surface of the shit, screeching an unconvincing claim to ownership.

Let me say this about shit. I have spent months walking through all manner of it. To tell the truth, a pilgrim comes to like shit. I know this sounds like an acquired taste, possibly born of necessity. But shit, of the rural variety, can have an attractive odor. I am not including humans; don’t even want to talk about it. But ruminants, horses, rural dogs, and chickens produce tons of dung along the road. And I welcome it because the wafting odor of manure is an olfactory signal of pending rest. It means animals, which means people, which means shelter, which means coffee and water and food.

muuu

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Companions on The Way

Martin Sheen’s and Emilio Estevez’s The Way opened in 15 cities, and will open on 500 screens on October 21. On Saturday I went to Washington to see it; I highly recommend it, but be prepared for an emotional roller coaster.

It is never too late to find the way.

I made the 500 mile trek of the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela in the fall of 2010. I wrote of my experience in “The Way of St. James” in the September / October 2011 issue of Touchstone and in these blogs: (here, here, and here).

Sheen had been there in the fall of 2009 making the film (the trailer).

The plot as summarized in the Boston Herald:

Martin Sheen, Estevez’s father and the father of Charlie Sheen, plays an aging American optometrist named Tom.

After the sudden death of Tom’s wayward son Daniel (Estevez) in a freak mountain storm on the pilgrimage to Compostela, a shaken Tom goes to St. Jean Pied du Port, France, to retrieve the body. Instead, he has the remains cremated and decides to complete the journey in his son’s memory and carry Daniel’s ashes with him.

Along “The Way,” Tom, who can be both gruff and magnetic, picks up companions also seeking something — enlightenment, forgiveness, weight loss, smoking cessation.

Among them are Dutch stoner Joost (Yorick van Wageningen of “The New World”), Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), a sexy and tart-tongued fellow American who plans to quit smoking at journey’s end, and Jack (James Nesbitt), a suspiciously theatrical Irish author who claims to have writer’s block, although he never shuts up.

There are some obvious cinematic references to The Wizard of Oz and also to Sheen’s life and family difficulties, but the film does capture the experience of the Camino, or at least the intense parts of the experience.

Emilio Estevez could have made a film about a traditional Catholic making the Camino, but it would have been less accessible to a general audience, and it would also have been a lot less interesting. The four characters who make the Camino together are trying to ignore God – but then why are they walking 500 miles on a Way that constantly reminds them of Him? And in any case, God is not ignoring them, as becomes clear.

The film, like the Camino, and like life, is full of pain and heart-wrenching grief that will not be healed until God wipes the tears from every eye. But the Camino is also full of joy and laughter. It is is very physical – muddy boots, blisters, wet clothing, aching shoulders – but also drinking glasses of red wine on sunny afternoons while looking over just-harvested wheat fields, and all, both the pains and the small pleasures, shot through with hints of transcendence. Jesus healed the blind with his spit, and healed a women who but touched his garment. And the blood and water flowing from his pierced side brought life to a dying universe.

Above all the Camino is about community – the little community of the four characters, of the fellow pilgrims on the Camino who are always doing small acts of kindness, of the Spaniards who are forever directing wandering pilgrims to the right path and greeting them with a Buen Camino, of the dead who have walked the Camino in the past millennium – and of the saints in heaven, whose statues look down from a thousand church portals.And above stands the cross, whose arms open everywhere a pilgrim looks, giving an abrazo to the whole world.

The film is intense at times but is varied with the wonderful, odd, and funny things that also make up the Camino. I didn’t stay in the dormitories – I had read of the world class snorers who frequented them, so I missed the opportunity to get to know people better – but my short conversations and brief interactions with the locals gave me a flavor for what others were experiencing a with greater depth.

One aspect of the Camino that is difficult to capture in a film is the lesson in patience, in ploddingness, in taking time for the small details. As an American male, for the first few hours of the first day I was annoyed when anyone, especially a woman, passed me, but I reminded myself this was not a race. I also stopped whenever my shoes needed adjusting – a half-hour delay in retying a shoe might mean days of misery from a blister. I also walked for hour after hour through the Kansas-like fields of the Meseta, hearing nothing but my own footsteps and seeing nothing but wheat for almost the entire day. God is in the intense moments, but He is also in the quiet performance of duty, one step after another, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. As Teresa of Ávila said, También anda Dios en la cocina, entre los pucheros God walks among the pots and pans. But that is hard to show in a 2 hour film.

Ultreya!

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Ignacio Matamoros o Peregrino

 

There is a well-known story about Ignatius of Loyola.

 

He was a soldier and, like Don Quixote, his favorite reading was books of chivalry. After he was wounded and recuperating all that he had to read was lives of the saints, and this reading led to his conversion.

 

After his conversion he was travelling to Montserrat on a donkey and met a Moor who scoffed at Mary’s perpetual virginity. What I had forgotten was that of course by this time there were no Moors left in Spain; they had all been expelled, so it must have been a morisco, an imperfectly converted Moslem. I just learned that moro also meant a sodomite.

 

Ignatius was seething, and the Moor went ahead. Ignatius was mulling whether to kill the Moor with his dagger for insulting Mary. Ignatius came to a crossroad and let the donkey choose the way. If the donkey chose the road that the Moor had taken, Ignatius would catch up with him and kill him. If they donkey chose the other way, Ignatius would let the matter go.

 

Fortunately for the Moor, the donkey chose the other path.

 

What I just learned was the last episode in this story.

 

When he finally arrived at Montserrat, Ignatius once and all for exchanges the dagger for a pilgrim’s staff at the altar of Our Lady. 

Ulrike Strasser explains the significance of this: 

 

The contrasting phallic images of dagger and staff are emblematic of a shift in masculine identities. The dagger stands for a life of warfare, aggression, and the defense of women’s honor. The pilgrim’s staff stands for a life of service to God, wandering the earth, forgoing violence. By trading one for the other, Ignatius is changed from a soldier to a soldier of Christ. He will continue to be brave but will now be brave on behalf of God. He will no longer think of “a certain lady” but pledge all his loyalty to the Queen of Heaven. 

(Ulrike Strasser, “’The First Form and Grace’: Ignatius of Loyola and the Reformation of Maculinity” in Scott H. Hendrix and Susan C. Karant-Nunn, eds., Masculinity in the Reformation Era, p. 60)

 

What Strasser does not mention, but which must have been prominent in Ignatius’s mind, and which I could scarcely miss, having recently walked 500 miles on the Camino Frances, is that Ignatius is exchanging the model of Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-Slayer) for Santiago Peregrino (St. James the Pilgrim). 

 

 

No longer Ignacio Matamoros, but now Ignacio Peregrino, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

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Death Comes to the Archbishop

I have been reading Death Comes to the Archbishop. It is balm for the soul after the other stuff I have been reading: the endless tales of clerical crimes, and the horrors visited by the anticlerical Republicans upon the often innocent priests of Spain. Willa Cather traduces Father Martinez, and is somewhat condescending to the Indians and the Hispanics, but she loved New Mexico and is sympathetic to French Catholicism.  My wife informs me that Cather taught my wife’s grandfather (Pittsburg High School, Class of 06). Cather wore mannish tweeds and sat on the edge of the desk – very daring.

 

Toward the end of the book Cather recounts a story told about Junipero Serra, the missionary to California. He and a companion had set off across the desert with only one day’s provisions.  On the second day they came to three cottonwood trees and an adobe house with a Mexican family: a father, mother, and small child who had a pet lamb. The family welcomes and fed them; Serra wanted to question them how they fed their flock, but he was exhausted and fell asleep. In the morning the family was gone, Serra assumed to tend their flocks, but a breakfast was laid for the Franciscans. 

When Junipero reached his goal those who welcomed him couldn’t believe he had survived the desert. Sierra told them that the Mexican family by the three cottonwood trees had saved them. They knew the three cottonwood trees, but there was no Mexican family there, his hosts insisted. They travelled back to the site: there were the trees, but no house. 

Junipero  remembered: 

When he bade his hosts good-night, he did indeed stoop over the little boy in blessing’ and the child had lifted his hand, and with his tiny finger made the cross upon Father Junipero’s forehead.

 

For They had returned 

to play Their first parts, in the persons of a humble Mexican family, the lowliest of the lowly, the poorest of the poor,– in a wilderness at the end of the world, where angels could scarcely find them. 

Years ago, a friend of mine was a law student living in Turkey Thicket in northeast Washington, D. C.  When I was visiting him, someone came to the door. He answered it and spoke for a few minutes to a woman, and then came back in with some potholders which the woman was selling. He explained to me that his Croatian grandmother had told him that Jesus and Mary often wander the earth in the guise of a poor person to test our hearts.  One never knew whether the poor person who asked for help was the Son or God or the Queen of Heaven – and did it matter?

 

In the novel, Latour, as he lay dying in his study in Santa Fe, reviews his life. All his past life becomes contemporaneous with him. When I was walking the Camino de Santiago, I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. I found myself reviewing my past life, all the people I had known, from my playmates when I was three years old up to the present.

 

One person I had worked with was Norm Rebhorn – he was my second level supervisor when I was a federal investigator. I came into investigations under unusual circumstances, and he gave me a break and confidence. He worked out of Philadelphia. He told us that he was often approached by beggars. One guy said he needed money for lunch. Norm said, sure, I was just going to have lunch too. Let me take you to McDonald’s. He guy sat with Norm, grumbling through his cheeseburger. Another time a beggar approached Norm and asked for money. Norm asked him what he wanted it for and the beggar said he needed a drink. Norm gave him the money, saying that he understood perfectly, every now and then a guy needed a drink.

 

I read John Chrysostom when I wake up at 3 AM from my nightmares induced by reading about sexual abuse. Chrysostom is the Father of Almsgiving. He told his flock in Antioch and Constantinople that they were too harsh in cross-examining poor men who asked for help. Does God cross-examine us when we ask for His help? I would be at a loss to answer His questions – but fortunately He gives when we ask and even when we don’t ask, when perhaps someone asks for us.

 

When I walked the Camino, I met some people who were begging their way along it. One was a young woman outside the church in Pamplona. I gave her some money, and I thought I should accompany it with a fatherly lecture that this is not a good idea for a young woman to do, but my Spanish is weak, and I thought I could be misinterpreted, so I let it go.

 

Spain is full of unemployed young men (45% unemployment of those under 30) and some were begging their way along the Camino. I gave a euro or two to them. Once as I entered a town I rested, and the young peregrino asked for 5 euros to pay for a bed at the refugio tonight. I gave him 10, and asked him to say a prayer for me when he got to Compostela.  Probably just another young Spaniard down on his luck, but who knows? And does it matter?

 

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Death and the Pilgrim

 The day when the Lord calls him, he will be neither disturbed nor surprised. He will have known this departure, he will have loved it – this manner of going and leaving all things, ready to take them up again or never again to find them, as God wills.  Renunciation will be familiar to him, he has rehearsed it and drilled it, he is ready. For one day having taken the pilgrimage seriously, he finds death sweet and promising, and this fatherland which he has searched for on earth in parable, he is ready at last to find in eternity.

Albert-Marie Besnard

Je vous attends. Je ne suis pas loin, juste de l’autre côté du chemin. Vous voyez, tout est bien. Charles Péguy

I am waiting for you. I am not far, just on the other side of the road. You will see, all is well.

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The Road Goes Ever Ever On

People die on the Camino de Santiago from age, illness, and accidents. The hazard I had to face was Spanish drivers. Late in the day, as the pilgrim enters a town he often forgets that city streets have cars in them, and steps off without looking, and…. But nothing happened. Nonetheless, it was a sobering to see the memorials to pilgrims who had died on the Camino.

As the pilgrim climbs the path in the Pyrenees that leads from France ot Spain, he sees a stone cross, on which is written Je suis le chemin – I am the Way.

The pastor of San Juan de Ortega, near Burgos, has this meditation for pilgrims:

If you have to die tomorrow, on the Camino, tell yourself that your life is completely fulfilled because you will be in a state of absolute search. And if you return home, tell yourself that you are still on the way, and that you will always be on the way, because it is a way that knows no end. Know this and never forget it.

Forever we will experience Jesus as the Way to the Father, the Camino leads to Jesus, and He is himself the Camino, as the pilgrim is reminded a hundred time by crosses and inscriptions and graffiti  Yo soy el Camino.

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Galicia

When tourists arrive in Santiago, they are somewhat surprised (and occasionally horrified) to discover that the city of full of the dulcet tones of the bagpipe (gaita). At the Santiago Parador, we heard one American ask why a bagpipe was being played in the square, and had to be informed it was the National Instrument. I read a review of that Parador by another tourist who couldn’t understand why the hotel didn’t stop that person from making THAT NOISE in front of the hotel. 

The bagpipe is not confined to the Celts – and in any case Galicia considers itself part Celtic. It is very wet, very green, and very Catholic.

 

Galicia gets the full benefit of the winds that blow across the Atlantic and dump their rains on the province. As it is on the ocean, the province’s cuisine is based on seafood: the coquille St. Jacques, naturally, but also upon the octopus (pulpo). 

Restaurants have display windows featuring complete octupuses (octopi?) in all their glory. The regional specialty is pulpo al gallego.  

Therefore, what could be more natural than the fusion of octopus and bagpipe. Somehow the instrument and the cephalopod seem to have been made for each other.

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Martin Sheen and The Way Home

Several people, both on this blog, and elsewhere, have asked me how I can remain a Catholic after what I’ve discovered about the Church.  That question deserves a long and thoughtful answer, but it would be much along the lines on what Martin Sheen says in this interview about his life and his new film about the Camino, The Way.

The interview also gives one hope that grace can work in the most disorderly lives, and Martin Sheen would the first to admit that his life had been very disorderly.

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Mass on the Camino

 I tried to go to mass every evening on the Camino. Most churches have evening masses for the pilgrims. Oddly enough, Sunday was the hard day – the sole village mass was in the morning and there was no mass in the evening. But 9 days out of 10 I was able to go to mass. 

Most of the masses were standard parish masses with a pilgrim blessing at the end. Spaniards, like Americans, race through the mass, and often begin saying the responses before the priest finishes the verse. TheLordbewandalsowithyou ElSeñorestéconvosycontuespiritu. I wish people would slow down. It’s not a race. 

A few masses stand out. 

The night before I began walking I went to the church in St. Jean Pied de Port in France. I sat down and opened the missal, and discovered it was in French and Basque. “Lord, please let the mass not be in Basque,” I prayed. Basque is a unique language (some theorize it is the language of the Cro-Magnons who were pushed back into the Pyrenees when the Indo-Europeans arrived) and there is not a single cognate to any other language. Fortunately the mass was in French, so I could follow along. 

Many pilgrims begin their pilgrimage at Roncesvalles, with all its associations with Charlemagne and the Song of Roland, and almost everyone was at the mass. The large and beautiful Romanesque church there has a baldachin with a stature of the Virgin and Child. It was the feast of St. Matthew, so the five priests were vested in red. They chanted Vespers before mass. At the end of the mass the celebrant gave the pilgrim blessing in the languages of the pilgrims, including, to my surprise, Japanese. He not only said the words in Japanese, but used Japanese gestures. Then all the lights were turned out except for the light on the Virgin and Child and we sang the Salve Regina in Latin. 

A few towns later I came to a low point in the liturgy. The church was dedicated to Santiago, and advertised a pilgrim blessing. The priest go though the entire mass in 15 minutes (I timed him) and walked off without giving the blessing. I did not understand a word and the pilgrims were disappointed. He was obviously tired or saying mass and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.

But then in the monastery of Benedictine nuns in Leon, the nuns sang the office and the mass in Spanish, but using the old Gregorian tones. Even more impressive was the deliberate speed of the mass. After everything the priest said, there was a pause perhaps 2 or 3 seconds before the nuns said the response. El Señor esté con vosotros. (long pause) Y con tu espíritu. It gave dignity and produced a profound meditative atmosphere – the practice adds only a minute or so to the entire mass, and could be adopted in parishes. 

Another priest organized a separate service immediately after mass for pilgrims. He had the pilgrims read the same passage in each of their languages, including Hungarian. 

My first full day of hiking in Galicia was a day of driving rain and heavy wind. I was soaked and cold, but decided to go mass. The Romanesque church was black with mold, chilly, and damp. The priest invited us all to come into the sanctuary and sit around the altar. We had all been sharing the Camino with cows and horses, and the smell of our wet boots gave testimony to that as we sat around the altar with its flickering candles. A Brazilian pilgrim started shivering, and the priest went back into the sacristy and got his coat for her. His liturgy was a little bit inventive, but perhaps there are special masses for the Camino. He was funny too, and he said that at the sign of peace we should do more than hold the tips of our neighbor’s fingers. We all gave one another big abrazos in a dozen languages. 

And then there was the mass of Todos los Santos – All Saints – in Santiago. We arrived at 11 AM for the noon mass and the pews were already full. The cathedral continued to fill up. Parents brought numerous children, some of whom sat on the base of a pillars and played cards while waiting for mass to start. (There is a statue in a Camino church of St. Anthony playing cards with the child Jesus.) Then the mass began. Men in velvet robes played krumhorns and trumpets in the procession that carried the image of Santiago around the aisles. 

Music has always been very important on the Camino. The elders of the apocalypse on the tympana of Camino churches are shown playing musical instruments (including the Galician bagpipe). The choir began singing like angels, and the botafumiero was set in motion.

Pilgrims who had timed themselves to arrive at noon began circulating through the church in their hiking clothes. The cathedral was full and overfull and still people entered, and they were welcome. It was the most wonderful mass I have ever been to, worth walking 500 miles to experience, and more than a little, I hope, a foretaste of the liturgy with all the saints that will go on forever.

 

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The Camino – Halfway Through – All Is Well

I am in Mansilla de las Mulas only 240 miles to go

I am in very very very small Spanish villages.

I will post more when I get back in November

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Ultreia

Tomorrow, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a friend of ours, Father Al Rose, is saying mass at the Cathedral in Baltimore and giving me the blessing for a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

C: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R: Who made heaven and earth.
C: The Lord be with you.
R: And with your spirit.
C: Let us pray .

 

O Lord whose word makes all things holy, bless we beseech you this emblem, this backpack, and these staffs to be used on this pilgrimage. May he who carries them arrive safely at the shrine of St. James the Apostle, the objective of his journey. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R: Amen

Presenting the backpack

 

 


In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, shoulder this backpack which will help you during your pilgrimage. May the fatigue of carrying it be expiation for your sins, so that when you have been forgiven you may reach the shrine of St. James full of courage, and when your pilgrimage is over, return home full of joy. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R: Amen

Presenting the staff

 

Receive this staff as support for the journey so that you are able to arrive safely at Saint James’ feet.


Presenting the shell


Receive this shell as a sign of your pilgrimage. With God’s grace may you behave as a true pilgrim throughout your entire journey. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R: Amen

Blessing the Pilgrim

 

“O God, You who took up your servant Abraham from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans,  watching over him in all his wanderings,
You who were the guide of the Hebrew people in the desert, we ask that You deign to take care of this your servant who, for love of your name, makes a pilgrimage to Compostela.


Be a companion for him along the path,

a guide at crossroads,

strength in his weariness,

defence before dangers,

shelter on the way,

shade against the heat,

light in the darkness,

a comforter in his discouragement,

and firmness in his intention,
in order that, through your guidance, he might arrive unscathed at the end of his journey and, enriched with graces and virtues, he might return safely to his home, filled with salutary and lasting joy.

We ask this through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
R: Amen


May the Lord always guide your steps and be your inseparable companion throughout your journey.
R: Amen

 

C: May the Virgin Mary grant you her maternal protection, defend you in all dangers of soul and body, and may you arrive safely at the end of your pilgrimage under her mantle.


C: May St. Raphael the Archangel accompany you throughout your journey as he accompanied Tobias and ward off every contrary or troublesome incident.

R: Amen


C: And may almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
R: Amen

C: Go in the peace of Christ.

 

 

 

 

R: Thanks be to God. 

Like millions before me, I will walk 500 miles from St.-Jean-Pied-de- Porte into the West, into the setting sun, into death and what lies beyond death.  Even before St, James preached the Gospel in Spain, people walked this Way, hoping that the death and rebirth of the sun was a sign that somehow we too would die and be reborn in a different world. 

St. James preached that there was indeed a way through death to a new and eternal life, and that way was the One who said, “I am the Way – Yo soy el Camino.” 

And at the end is Santiago, the city of St. James, the city of the Field of Stars, Compostela. And at the entrance to the Cathedral the pilgrims are welcomed not by the Last Judgment, but by what lies beyond the Judgment, by the Portal of Glory, Christ in Glory, surrounded by the Elders who have cast down their golden crowns before Him, the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world , who has wiped the tears from every eye, and by St. James, the pilgrim who has walked beside every pilgrim on that road, whether they knew it or not,  St. James whom they now embrace, almost always with tears, but now tears, not of sorrow, but of what?  Joy – why do we cry for joy? – but we do, for in this world love and sorrow are forever joined, the Lamb forever bears His wounds as a sign of His love, as too our sorrow and grief are transfigured but not forgotten.

 

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El Camino – The Way

Martin Sheen (who is in fact Spanish – or rather Galician) has done a very moving movie on the Camino de Santiago – “The Way.” It will be released July 25 (the Feast of St James) in a Holy Year for the Camino, because this year the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday.

I, Deo volente – Dios mediante, will begin the Camino on September 20, and arrive in Santiago on All Saints Day (La Fiesta de Todos los Santos).

Here is the trailer: http://www.theway-themovie.com/

The plot is heart-rending: a widower loses his son, who is killed as he begins the Camino. The father resolves to walk the Camino with the ashes of his son – and learns a lot along the way.

From the memoirs I have read, the story is all too probable. The very first day of the Camino, leaving from St. Jean Pied du Port and climbing over the Pyrenees, is in fact the most dangerous, and every year someone dies.(There is an alternative route I have promised my wife I will take if the weather looks threatening).

Sometimes people walk the Camino with a sick family member to pray for healing. The family member dies on the Camino, and the survivor comes back to complete it for him. And all along the way are the crucifixes, and the pilgrims kiss the bleeding feet of Jesus, as their feet (all too often) bleed too.

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