Category Archives: Camino

Camino Day 19, Rabanal del Camino

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Day 19. Saturday, September 13, 2014. Rabanal del Camino. We had an easy start this morning, getting lost only briefly before finding our way. By the time we got to the first town we were ready for breakfast and found a lovely, flower-filled cafe run by Pilar. She offered a number of breakfast sandwiches on a flatbread. To every person who ordered she assured that they were the order was the most delicious the person would ever have. After all she had made them herself.

After that town we started a moderate ascent into the Mountains of Leon. We have left the barren plains and will climb two mountains before reaching Santiago. At the next town we prayed at the church and quickly continued our walk. Throughout the day we continued to ascend until the path became steep and rocky as we reached our destination. As we neared the town there was a wire fence where pilgrims had woven crosses out of sticks. Fr. Tom took the opportunity to add one of his own.

We found an albergue run by an English group. When they found out we are priests they offered us a separate room. The albergue is next to a small monastery where we will celebrate vespers tonight and the three of us will celebrate Mass in English.

At the albergue is a married couple from Roanoke, Virginia, a volunteer from Charlottesville and, of course, the two of us [Father Peck is from West Virginia], so Virginia is well represented. The hospitaleros here are known for their kindness to pilgrims, and are especially attentive to those with foot ailments. It was not a long day and we have time to relax before the next stage tomorrow.
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Camino Day 18, Astorga, Part 2

Day 18. Friday, September 12, 2014, part 2. Astorga. We had chosen to eat an early dinner on the main plaza of Astorga and shortly noticed that something was happening. It began with people arriving with band instruments. More and more people gathered in the plaza and then we heard piping and saw groups bringing enormous flags on tall (maybe 30 foot) poles. For over an hour group after group raised their flags but the real focus was on the flag bearer who performed stunts… raising the flag with one arm, or dancing while balancing the flag.

We also saw a gathering of clergy in capes and birettas, and people carrying processional crosses. This came together as a procession with a statue of Mary, Our Lady of Remedios, to a now lighted cathedral.

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Hundreds were in the procession, outpouring their excitement and devotion. As we entered the cathedral the organ was pealing, camera flashes ignited and the cathedral was fully illuminated. We felt privileged to be part of this local fiesta. Sadly the albergue was locking doors and we had to leave but we could still hear people celebrating into the night.
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Camino Day 18, Astorga

Day 18. Friday, September 12, 2014. Astorga.

As we left this morning we left the meseta behind and began the climb to one of the highest points on the Camino (more on that Sunday). We walked for about an hour along a highway with morning traffic buzzing by us before we were able to take a more scenic route. We stopped at the first village square to pray and have cafe con leche.

We climbed higher and higher taking a rocky road until we came to a rise where a man named David lived in a deserted and dilapidated barn, with no electric or water, offering a simple breakfast buffet for a donation. The man is a genius. I think everyone stopped and many were gathered before we left. Fr. John recognized the man from making the Camino three years before. He will probably be a millionaire one day.

Not long after, we came to a monument of a cross from which you could see the city we would stop in. A long descent followed, coming to our albergue about two hours later.

The albergue is in a rehabbed historic building with interesting features. The dorm is in the attic, with a wood ceiling and skylights. At this point in the Camino we are thrilled that we were able to get non-bunkbeds and have access to a wash machine to get all our clothes clean. Handwashing clothes every day is for the birds.

Alberque etiquette varies, but often you are awakened by those getting to bed late, those setting out too early, the snoring and any one getting up in the middle of the night. We met a man today so sleep deprived he is springing for a hotel.

Even though we have advanced the journey, we continue to run into people we have met previously along the way. We all have similar stories of what we experienced and what we’ve seen. We compare notes on people we have met. We get updates on who has abandoned the journey and about the characters we meet along the way. This is what keeps us going, knowing we are connected on the way to other and not wanting to be a story of someone who gave up.

Reflection: Soothing Balm for the Weary Pilgrim

In the cathedral at Leon there are two statues of our Blessed Mother that riveted my imagination. One was a statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary.  As I gazed upon this exquisite and perfectly balanced work of art, my heart pondered the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation.

 

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Then there was a statue of the Virgin Mary that had been at the front door of the cathedral until the 19th century when it was moved to the Lady chapel behind the high altar. The Virgin turns her gaze full of mystery, a gaze that is soothing balm to a weary Pilgrim.  Her gaze brought forth spontaneously from my soul: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. 

Reflection: An Artistic Jewel

The cathedral at Leon is an artistic jewel that captivated my imagination because of the play of light through the beautiful stained glass that brings one close to the celestial Jerusalem.

The construction of this magnificent cathedral is also a symbol of the flourishing of a new urban culture after the European crisis of the feudal period. With the development of a middle class, cities grew and contributed to a luminous culture full of vitality.

After the collapse of Muslim power in 1212, King Alfonso promoted science and the arts which made his court a cultural center.  This is truly an example of Spanish exceptionalism.  Oftentimes we think of the 13th century as a time of darkness and superstition but it was a time of a cultural fullness that far exceeds modern culture, in that in the 13th century the Catholic faith brought forth beauty in over 200 cathedrals in Europe. That is true exceptionalism!

The simplicity, elegance and purity of lines of this cathedral lifts the spirit to the heights and brings to earth the divine world and thus brings us to heaven during the sacred liturgy.

Spending hours in the cathedral helped me come to a profound understanding of how exceptional the 13th century was in the history of western culture. I was filled with wonder and awe as I explored this artistic jewel.

Day 17, Leon

Day 17. Thursday, September 11, 2014. Leon. Our thoughts have been with the US on this anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11.
  
Our plan this morning was to advance our Camino and get a rest day by traveling by bus to Leon, but that was more complicated than we thought. We walked about five miles to a town where we had been told we could catch a train, but when we got there the train was gone and there were no buses. We continued to walk until we found someone to give us a ride to a bus station and finally arrived in Leon late morning.

This meant leaving four friends we have made over these days. This is part of The Camino, saying goodbye to people you have become family with because they need to get home, or you have different itineraries, or because of injury. At the same time you learn that people show up again when you least expect it.

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Father Kauffmann and Father Peck in Leon

Father Kauffmann and Father Peck in Leon

We walked into Leon, exploring the historic area and having coffee and pastry at a cafe. We found an albergue run by Benedictine sisters and checked in. Fr. John who is traveling with us and is a Benedictine felt connected to his roots by this choice.

We couldn’t wait to tour the Leon cathedral. The cathedral exceeded our expectations. It is a fine example of late Gothic architecture marked with simplicity, elegance and purity of lines. Everywhere we turned was beauty, in the windows, the statues, in every chapel and detail. We spent over two hours admiring and studying the cathedral, ending by praying the office. I think we will always remember it.

We also visited the cathedral cloister museum which contained historic religious statues and images, and liturgical vessels and vestments. It felt like shopping. Father Mattingly wanted to bring a few things home for the new church, but was afraid he couldn’t carry them all the way to Santiago.

We explored all the churches in the historic center including the Benedictine chapel where we attended evening Mass. We were especially impressed with St Isidore where Eucharistic Exposition was in progress and people were praying.

We also took time at a vinoteca near the cathedral to share a chilled bottle of local white wine.

This has been an exhilarating day and we look forward to getting back on the way to Santiago tomorrow.

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Reflection, Day 12: The Wonder of a Starry Night

We left Burgos at 5 am in order to experience the Campostella, that is, the field of stars. We were disappointed because the urban lights hid the splendor of the starry night from our eyes.  However the morning we left the little village of hontanos we were not disappointed.

The starry night blanketed itself over us. The stars were so radiant and beautiful that one’s spirit soared.  As the morning began to dawn the light of the stars began to diminish until only the morning star was shining brightly in the sky. My thoughts turned to the exultet of the great Easter vigil: may Christ that Morning Star who came back from the dead find this light still burning. The starry night of the Campostella evoked within my heart the beauty of the Easter Vigil at Saint Benedict.

The deacon brings the Paschal candle into the Sanctuary, proclaiming, "Lumen Christi!" during the Easter Vigil, Saint Benedict Catholic Church, Richmond Virginia, April 19, 2014.

The deacon brings the Paschal candle into the Sanctuary, proclaiming, “Lumen Christi!” during the Easter Vigil, Saint Benedict Catholic Church, Richmond Virginia, April 19, 2014.

Day 16, Calzada de los Hermillios

Camino: the halfway point

Camino: the halfway point

Day 16. Wednesday, September 10, 2014. Calzada de los Hermillios. Left a little later this morning, but in time to see the full moon. The moon illuminated our way for the first hours of what would be a long and grueling day.

Initially we treated to three quaint villages, praying morning prayers on the porch of a church, enjoying coffee on a flower filled plaza, and restocking medical supplies. We crossed a medieval bridge next to a chapel being restored. In Sahagun we passed a monument marking the center point of the Camino.

Midday things became physically and psychologically challenging. We have heard this stage described as a journey through purgatory. We are learning how apt this description is. You try to prepare for these interminable stretches of barren landscape with no water or shade, and you walk and you do not seem to get anywhere. Day after day of this is distressful and demands great determination and perseverance. This is a lesson in the spiritual life… endurance in the face of challenge… trusting that Jesus will bring spiritual benefit from this experience.

Again, we were overjoyed to reach the albergue and friends we have made on the way. The pilgrims share a bond formed in our determination to reach the goal, sharing the challenges and the joys.

Day 15, Terradillos de Templarios


Day 15. Monday, September 9, 2014. Terradillos de Templarios. We left the albergue early and found a cafe for coffee. We had heard there would be no services for the first twelve miles. There were not.

We started out treated to a full moon which lit the way with little need for our headlamp. The moonscape was a gift in an otherwise challenging landscape.

Today was endless, dry, flat and monotonous. We were overjoyed after four hours to hit a village with a restaurant. It seemed like every pilgrim was stopping for refreshments and shade. The journey continued to be dry, flat and monotonous. We were worse for wear when we arrived at the albergue. This part of the journey is an exercise in pure endurance. Even the guidebooks call it psychologically challenging. We agree.

There is a little town at our stopover tonight so we will stay at the albergue to rest. This was the stronghold of the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims and fought the Moors. Saint James is portrayed in this area as the Moor slayer.

Reflection at Carrion

Last night at Carrion we have a beautiful Mass at 8 pm. The church was full with locals and pilgrims. After Mass the priest invited all the pilgrims to come forward for a blessing and a little gift. So many came forward and we acknowledged our nationalities. So many people of different languages and nations united in one faith. The Catholic church is truly the most exceptional institution on the face of the earth! One Dutch Protestant pilgrim whom I met on the way a few days before knew I was a priest. He told me this morning that when he saw a priest bless a priest he was brought to tears. After the blessing the priest invited us to the Mary altar and we chanted the Salve Regina. I listened with heartfelt devotion and my heart was filled with thanks to profess the Catholic faith in the midst of such linguistic diversity. What a blessing to experience the universality of the church.