What is pilgrimage anyway?
Basically, it is ‘a journey undertaken for a religious motive.’ It is an institution ‘evident in all world religions.’ It is usually bound for destinations known to possess the allure of some sanctification ‘by association with a divinity….or holiness.’ Through the experience that involves an inherent devotional sacrifice, one seeks ‘personal transformation.’
Of course, motivations vary with every ‘peregrino’ (that’s Spanish for ‘pilgrim'). Commonly, it is an act of penance for sins, with a plea for forgiveness. Others express divine devotion and wish for a reward. Tourism being an inevitable aspect, photos (selfies?) have become a modern day side activity. There, too, is touching and/or wiping a revered relic and wish for good fortune. A souvenir or two become incidentals. Most look forward to experiencing the simple joys of spirituality. There are those who crave for escaping mundane distractions, reflect upon and seek spiritual guidance.
Here is mine.
In a week, I will be embarking on my own spiritual adventure of a lifetime. I go contrite. Not with a broken spirit but with the sincere hope of performing a much postponed penitence. It has been a long time for penance. It is acceptance of a sinful past, as all must. It is never too late for rueful introspection.
Remorse, Contrition, Repentance, Atonement, Redemption,
Reformation. Catechetical thoughts and childhood instructions beckoning from decades of unuse and neglect.
Under Spain’s summer sun, I will sweat off the past, spiritually too, with every bead from my brow a sign of conscience cleansing. For Roman Catholics, when was it last you solemnly spoke “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was….. ?” It will be for me, once more, from when I cannot even recall anymore. Not kneeling before a screened confessional box but walking under Iberian sun and skies through fields and knolls and fascinating towns and villages with ancient churches and castles.
Most of us know what we want of life, yet really not ever knowing what fate has in store for us. Everyday could be a “last hurrah,” you know. Such is a distinct possibility for which most of us are hardly ever ready. Time having abided and permitted me a life longer than most, I seize this opportunity to express gratitude, a roadmap to happiness. Who knows, this could be my last purposeful jaunt. So, let me render a physical testament for the record, before my ashed inurnment: I am 86, 165 lbs. in a 5’5” frame scarred by 3 abdominal surgeries, (don’t they call that ‘procedure’ now?) including a botched gall bladder removal. A bout with pancreatitis, to boot, rewarding me the experience of excruciating pain I happen to believe worse than my sweet mother’s, when she gave birth to me!
That’s the physical baggage (plus a light-weight backpack), I will be carrying over 115 kilometers on my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela from my starting point, the town of Sarria, in Galicia, Spain. From Madrid, I take a six-hour train ride to reach Sarria. That 115-kilometer stretch is the last leg of a 780-kilometer pilgrimage route reputedly in use for more than eleven hundred years! It is the most popular of the network of ancient pilgrim routes that stretches across northern Spain and parts of Europe. This route is known as “Camino Frances” (The French Way) because it commences just beyond the French border across the Pyrenees. This route would from 30 to 35 days of walking.
Most pilgrims negotiate at least, the last one hundred kilometers, from which ever commencement point. It is the minimum distance required in order to merit a “Credencial de Peregrino” also known as ‘the Compostela.’ It is a certificate issued by the Pilgrim’s Office as an accreditation of the distance covered by a pilgrim.
For me, it will be a week-long walking pilgrimage through seven towns: Sarria, Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Melide, Arzua, Rua/Pedrouzo and finally, Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia—“an autonomous community” (a Spanish federal state) in northwestern Spain. I imagine these communities to be quaintly rural and sparsely populated. Ever since the 1980s when the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage attained world attention, there sprung posadas and albergues (inns and hostels), regular hotels, too, accommodating the ever-growing foot traffic.
I arrive at Santiago de Compostela on the Feast Day of St. James, July 25, a Sunday. My pilgrimage ends on a special day because every time July 25th falls on a Sunday, the Vatican regards such year as Holy or Jubilee. 2021 is therefore a Holy Year. For the rest of the 21st century, there are 11 more July 25s falling on a Sunday, others having already occurred in 2004 and 2010. The 21st century has 14 such Holy/Jubilee Years.
The ecclesiastical observance of a Holy Year is regarded in Roman Catholic tradition as “a great religious event.” “It is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin; ….. of reconciliation between adversaries; …. and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters.”
Folks, there is a wealth of information about “Camino Santiago de Compostela” available on the internet. For the lazy ones, however, here is a capsule primer: It honors St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Legend says he first preached Christianity in Spain, (he is the patron saint of Spain), Christendom’s first martyr, whose remains were returned to Spain and entombed in the middle of a forest, from which a shrine grew, now the “archcathedral basilica” in Santiago de Compostela.
Indeed, I have trespassed upon many, for which I have sought and still seek forgiveness; as I have forgiven all those who have “trespassed against me.”
I dedicate my pilgrimage as a peace offering to kin, friends and fellowmen, and…..to all the girls I loved (and wronged) before!
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