Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Camino de Santiago de Campostela: Santiago

           After my talk with Pavel and on the eve of getting to Santiago, I expected that reaching the Cathedral itself might be a let-down. I’d nearly walked the 200 miles from Leon, I’d had some wonderful surprises and plenty to think about. What could getting to a Cathedral add to it all?
            The walk into Santiago, taken by itself, was a bit boring. I kept expecting that somewhere along the way, a spectacular view of the Cathedral would open up, but that doesn’t happen. You slowly make your way through the suburbs, the busy part of Santiago, where most of the work gets done, and it was no more inspiring than walking to downtown Fresno along Kings Canyon Road, although Fresno is much bigger. There are a couple monuments to the Camino along the way, none of which are very inspiring, although they do increase the suspense of that last day: first you hit a monument to a visit of Pope John Paul II, at Monte do Gozo (Monte Xoi in Galego), Mount Joy. From this point, a medieval pilgrim would have been able to see the spires of the Cathedral, and we looked hard, but today they are no longer visible, blocked by other buildings. So we walked through a city, gradually got into the old town, and got a glimpse of the top of the Cathedral de Santiago as we were almost there:
Monte do Gozo: Young Soo Chun, Pam Pollock, Bruce Thornton, Me, Cole Thornton
            We came in on a gray day, not the best for photography, but it was still an event. We had arrived. For Young Soo, it was an arrival after 500 miles of walking:

Young Soo in the Cathedral Plaza
The baroque Cathedral of Santiago, in gray.

            I was, frankly, relieved. I had pushed pretty hard and I was more than ready for a rest:
Done. Also 11 or 12 pounds lighter
           Thanks to Jackie Thornton, we had good rooms lined up for the next night at the Hospederia Seminario Mayor, two nice beds, a private bathroom, plenty of room. Luxury at 54 euros a night. We didn't know where we'd sleep for the first night, but we noticed several people on the street hawking rooms.
            Our first stop was the Oficina del Peregrino, not far from the Cathedral, to get our certificates that we’d completed the pilgrimage. We had a little trouble finding it, but it turned out to be only a block from the Cathedral. A line of peregrinos went out the door and into the street. As we inched our way forward, we found out it went up two flights of stairs, where we waited with our backpacks. 

Ugh. It's got stairs.
            At the top, we displayed our stamped pilgrim’s passports, filled out a form, and were given the certificate, and for 1 euro, a tube to put it in.
            The day turned into a celebration and a reunion with many of the people we’d met along the way. We found two rooms at 16 euros per room—not the best, but we were happy to know where we were sleeping, and it was located across the street from a bar/restaurant that everyone we’d met seemed drawn toward. ("That will be eighteen euros," our host said. "On the street, you said sixteen," Pam replied instantly. "Oh, yeah, sixteen. I meant to say sixteen . . .") Pam Pollock, me, and Young Soo lined up in a row:

Hospedaje Santa Cruz, Santiago
We met nearly everyone within half a block of our “hostel.” The day turned into a fiesta. In effect, I ate three dinners that day. After getting our certificates we had paella mariscos, sopa marisco, and chiparones (squid) for a peregrino price at a fancy restaurant. then I took a nap. Then I ate again. Then I looked around, and ate once more. I thought, I ought to go to mass today, but I was meeting so many people, I finally said, mañana.

More than we could eat.
Me, (California) Young Soo (S. Korea), Pam Pollock (Oregon), ??, Frances (Germany), Liat (Israel), Maureen (USA), Jaime (USA)

            The next day, after leaving our backpacks at the Hospederia, we went to the Cathedral way ahead of the scheduled mass, to look around, and finally, make sure we got seats, as we heard it would be packed, which it was. 

The Baroque altar in the Cathedral: the Counter-Reformation's answer to Protestant austerity.

          We had come through the Peregrino office on a day when they processed over a thousand peregrinos—a very big day, and it was a highlight of the mass that the names of the countries of all those pilgrims were read. I suspect it was rather rare to have “Israel,” in the line-up, but there was Liat, right behind me at the mass. She’d been through the office the day before as well. Knowing that an Israeli peregrino was there, to hear the name of her country read, felt not just right, but essential.

Waiting for Mass to Begin: Cole, Bruce, Jen (New Zealand), Me, Young Soo

Liat and Maureen, behind us
           I would guess that about half the people in the Cathedral were Catholic, judging from the responses during the mass and attendance at communion, which means that many non-Catholics (most of whom were probably non-Christians) felt drawn to it for one reason or another: curiosity, friendship with Catholic peregrinos, the sense that the mass was the period at the end of a very long sentence, and I’d bet that many were there because they were still trying to understand the spiritual significance of what they were doing. Many I talked to on the Camino were looking for meaning in one way or another, syncretistically cobbling their own religions together, to suit their sense of what the truth was “for them.”
            There were several priests available to hear confession before mass, but not a lot of takers. I found myself with a German priest who said he knew English, but I’d have to speak slowly. A confession is not something I care to blog about, and I have no intention of telling you what I said. But I will repeat some of the things the priest said, as there was no one in line behind me, and he took his time. He said that we have to accept ourselves the way we are, with all of our infirmities, because God accepts us that way. And if we are going to accept ourselves, as we should, warts and all, then we have to take others the same way. That was the lesson of love you learned on the Camino, and the Camino was just life. The triangular relationship of humans to each other and to God simply does require mutual acceptance, and part of that acceptance is not presuming to know anything about another person’s spiritual state, whether they be a New Age Gnostic or an atheist. The Camino was the best evidence that I had that God works in his own way with everyone and that the results of that work appear outside the parameters of any creedal reference point.
            For penance, the priest told me to say a prayer for the Syrian people, who were suffering horribly.

The Cathedral and blue sky.

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