(Editor's note: Six months ago, former Press Secretary Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez began a 6-day pilgrimage, the Camino Santiago de Compostela, which honors St. James the Greater, the patron saint of Spain. He failed to complete his 'camino' after his sudden death on July 22, 2021, Day 3 of his pilgrimage. However, weeks later, three of his children were able to finish his camino as a way of honoring their father. This is their story.)
Our Dad was on a mission, and truly excited about his “spiritual adventure of a lifetime”, his journey of the soul. He planned his Camino, clear-headed, clear-eyed, and was truly deliberate about it. Some pleaded with him to be with others, and to postpone so others could accompany him, but he wanted it to be his way, His Camino. No one could have convinced him to do otherwise.
Regardless of subject matter, he expressed himself with energy and passion. His Cyber Buddy blog and his FB posts showed it as well. He is fond of government, business, history, including church history, and the occasional trivia like tinapa. In his last few weeks, he had become a cyber town crier of a different kind; his blogs and FB posts were different—spiritual, contrite, and prayerful. He was energized and humbled by all who expressed their encouragement and prayers for his journey.
He was 86 and healthier than many people 20 years his junior. Traveling alone, he started his Camino in the town of Sarria, Galicia, in north western Spain on 18 July 2021, a Sunday. For a man who thrived and was energized in the company of people, he was physically alone in his journey. He was someone whose voice rung above the rest, and could talk non-stop for hours. During this, his last journey, the ring in his voice was just as loud. This time, in silence, and spent conversing for days on end, with himself and his Maker. He was physically alone, but spirit-filled and accompanied by the prayers of his family, his friends, and all the peregrinos who preceded him.
After You, Dad
We introduce the ‘After You’ route which was what was left of the journey to finish Dad’s 115-km hike to earn him the Compostela Certificate. The name was coined by Dad’s good friend, Justice Adolf Azcuna, who suggested it for his fellow ‘super seniors’ who could negotiate some 40+ kilometers of the French way. (At the time of his death, he had covered about 75 kms of the 115-km journey).
This is the story of how we finished Dad’s Camino as we brought him to our Father’s house in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Spain.
We pulled into the loose stone driveway of Dad’s last hostel, immediately noticing a man with a weed-hacker just outside the inn’s storage. We stepped out of the car to tell him that we were going to take a couple of photos in front of the house, mentioning that our father had passed away “semana pasada” or last week (July 22, 2021).
“Señor Tomas Gomez?” The man replied. He stepped away momentarily, just to grab his mask, then began telling us the story of Dad’s final moments. We stood before him holding our phones as close to the sound of his voice as possible, every word a morsel of gold. He gave us a tour of the house to give context to the story, pointing out the chair Dad sat on to enjoy his final cup of coffee at a table he shared with the pension house owner where they conversed briefly prior to Dad retiring to his bed.
At the top of the stairs, the gentleman opened up a room numbered “3”, which became a symbol we found in abundance over the subsequent two days, stopping randomly for a water break then realizing the house we took leisure in front of was addressed “3”, symbolizing TGIII or perhaps the three of his children who were able to complete what indeed was his last “purposeful jaunt.”
Dad's room was quaint, cozy and inviting. Warm wood flooring, an iron- welded chandelier, and rosy wallpaper all awakened by the glow of the mid-morning light. We each took our moment, visualizing Dad’s final seconds that were probably filled with immense amounts of happiness, accomplishment, and grace. The pension house owner decided to pay Dad a visit when he noticed that the “happy old man” hadn’t yet checked out. According to him, Dad’s face possessed a happy and peaceful expression, and Dad himself was “jovial until the end.”
The Lost Walking Stick
We returned downstairs and thanked the kind man for his patience and time. As we made our way to the car to gather our packs, he called out to us to wait for a moment longer, disappearing into his tool shed. He reemerged with an object we had been searching for since our arrival in Spain. The local police weren’t able to locate it, nor were the Philippine Consul or Spanish embassies which defeated our spirits all week long through the tiresome process of planning Dad’s funeral.
We had everything necessary for the walk: Dad’s backpack, his shells from Calbayog that he intended to have blessed, and his ashes that were kept in a ceramic urn. The pension house owner gave us the final piece of Dad’s pilgrimage — his walking stick!
We exclaimed and cried in celebration, each taking turns photographing ourselves next to a lush grove adjacent to the house, proudly wielding the stick in hand. It provided us the guidance for our walk, the stability in our gait and support in moments of pause and contemplation.
With this, three of us (Jose, Malia, and Karen) officially resumed Dad’s Camino in the highest of spirits with some 43 kilometers left to negotiate.
We walked through lush viridian hills, with families of cows napping in the soft grasses, greeted by large sunflowers and every color of the most robust hydrangeas imaginable. The weather was kind. Cloudy and breezy initially, then a soft sprinkle. The gentle rain began falling in more abundant amounts, which was manageable under the canopy of trees on the trail but we began to get wet and felt the soreness of our muscles so we stopped at a bar in O Pino - Cerceda where we enjoyed the regions finest beer, Estrella Galicia, along with Iberico sandwiches.
We arrived at the final hostel on Dad’s itinerary with wet clothes, soaking wet shoes, and achy muscles. We washed and dried our wet clothes the following morning, four euros per cycle…pricey but necessary! We had tostada and americanos at a café down the street as the morning sun matured, lifting the moisture off the trees and creating a hazy mist in the distance.
We resumed the walk, stopping at every trail marker to document how many kilometers we had left to go. We took our first snack break just past the Rego de Amenal creek, at “15 kilometro” a cute trailside resto that exclusively caters to peregrinos and offers stamping stations. With a new stamp in Dad’s pilgrim passport and full tummies, we set off into the sun soaked corn fields dancing in the breeze.
Just around the bend of maize, we found a modest shop resting beneath some trees. We shared Dad’s story and our purpose for walking the Camino to which the kind shop owner gifted us with our choice of one souvenir.
We were told by the hostel manager that the remainder of the Camino would be the easiest part….nothing is easy about negotiating uphill slopes at a 60-degree grade. Our calves were burning, our tiredness required more pit stops but the more frequently we rested, the harder it was to resume and the heavier Dad’s pack got.
Just outside the Santiago city limits, we stopped once more in a lush public park that had a first-class view of the rolling Spanish plains that were becoming golden green from the aging sun. With just two kilometers to go, we were greeted by Mary, Kuya Mitch, and Ate Joy. ‘Salubong’ is a Filipino Easter Tradition that translates to “meeting”. In Catholicism, ‘Salubong’ is a ritual that reenacts the meeting of Christ and His mother Mary, after His resurrection. We rendezvoused in a small café, recounting the sights we had seen and toasting to our aching muscles. Walking on cobblestone now proved most difficult as we were greeted by the outskirts of the city center. The modest residences soon evolved into tightly packed apartments and bustling streets. Dad’s other children, who could not be there to finish the Camino, were with us in spirit as peregrinos and praying for our well-being.
The Last Few Steps
There was an archway just outside the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela that housed an Opera singer, welcoming us with an emotive aria which he completed with both melodic romance and a vocally dramatic death. We stepped foot on to the cobblestoned plaza at the start of the golden hour.
The golden hour is a short window of time, approximately seven minutes, where the sunrise or sunset is at its most rich, lighting everything in its path in the warmest of hues. The cathedral was bathed in a rich marmalade and our bodies cast violet shadows on the ground. The utter exhaustion from just two days of walking is only a small indication of how Dad would have felt arriving to his destination. We cried and laughed, breathing in the crisp air of the Spanish dusk and exhaling our catharsis.
The Holy Door
The next morning, we were led by Father Manny C. Domingo Jr., SDB through the Holy Doors or ‘door of mercy’ at La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Keep in mind, the Holy Doors are only ever accessible during a Holy Year, which Dad also described beautifully in his previous articles as occurring only fourteen times in a century. The year of Dad’s passing marked the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Catholicism to the Philippines. We attended a mass offered for Dad and witnessed the conferment of ‘The Compostela’ which is a document that certifies that a pilgrim has completed the Camino de Santiago.
This system of accreditation was created in the 9th and 10th centuries, when the pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James the Apostle was given official status. This document is awarded by the Church authorities and can be collected at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office inside the church. Compostela comes from the Latin word “campus stellae” or field of the star. Coincidentally, throughout the course of our lives, Dad would frequently proclaim the phrase ‘ad astra per aspera’ interchangeable with ‘per aspera ad astra’ or ‘through hardships to the stars!’
The Little Prince
Dad carried with him on his journey a copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Towards the end of this French novella, it reads: “All men have the stars….for some who are travelers, the stars are guides….in one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night….and when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
On the Camino, the scallop shell is a symbol of The Way of Saint James, each groove signifying a path that can be taken from the numerous starting points one can take on the pilgrimage. Towards the end of the story it states “You understand…it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy. But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells..”
Dad entered his last slumber in the Spanish countryside, leaving behind a life well lived. If you knew Buddy Gomez in any capacity, you know he had a spirit that could never be contained. Let us look to the stars and rejoice as we remember his boisterous voice and beaming laugh. Lastly, let us not forget the Camino continues with Dad forever in our hearts.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.