Saints and Pilgrims

Letter From Spain

Marie’s walk was an act of prayer for her brother, who had leukemia.  Alessandro had recently endured a divorce and was walking to find peace.  Klaus was taking time out to decide what to do with his life after losing his job.  Sharon and Chris were on the Spanish leg of a three-month tour of Europe.  Pierrot and Helene, in their late 60’s, were making the pilgrimage to Compostela for the fourth time, because they loved it.  And me?  I was on the Camino de Santiago because I had been asked.

In the summer of 2003, the idea of walking the ancient pilgrims’ way to the shrine of St. James the Great had presented itself to me three times in as many weeks—too often, I felt, to be accounted for by mere coincidence.  The first providential prod came at a campsite in the French Pyrenees, when, in return for a small act of kindness, a stranger had given me a book about the Camino.  I had long known that people still traveled the thousand-year-old network of footpaths to the tomb of the Apostle in northwestern Spain, and that knowledge had pleased my old-fashioned devotional temperament.  I read and enjoyed the book, and it occurred to me that maybe one day I might make the pilgrimage, too.

Back in England a few days later, I met in the street an ex-colleague whom I hadn’t seen for a decade.  “What have you been up to for the last ten years?”...

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