Monday, September 23, 2019

A Pilgrim's Thank You

After our approximately 135 mile walk through northern Spain, all twelve of us pilgrims have returned safely to our families. We sustained no injuries, with the exception of some relentless blisters. We are thankful to have walked a section of the way, in the footsteps of Saint Francis for the veneration of the tomb of Saint James. The spiritual awakening that began in the first town of Ponferrada will remain in our hearts for months to come. On the way, we found friendship regardless of conflict, faith regardless of pain, and personal sacrifice for the needs we held close to our hearts. We are lucky to have undergone this experience and are thankful for the blessings of our parishioners.

This voyage of self and group identity would not have been possible without the generous donations of our parish. Our Camino de Santiago was a pilgrimage of twelve people but we carried the prayer requests of many within ourselves. Every day we made sure to include our parish in our opening prayer, our wonderful Catholic Community, which never ceases to enrich our daily lives.
-Gabby Garza

A Pilgrim's Journal

Lily’s Reflection:
July 27 2019: It has now been exactly a month since I finished this 200km section of the Camino de Santiago. I’m still not entirely sure what takeaways I have from it, I am still reflecting on my experience.  When I first came home, I was, of course, sad for it to be over, but I was also very excited to see my family, and sleep in my own home. The more time that goes by, the more I yearn for the lifestyle I had while walking. The minimalism and constant moving was very different from my usual life in a suburban house. Although packing so few things made me a little nervous, and walking all day every day for ten days straight is not something I had ever done before, I grew quickly accustomed to life on the Camino.

Just like all of the other pilgrims, I brought very few things with me. Three outfits, two pairs of shoes, a journal, a book, a camera, a jacket, first aide, a water bottle, and a sleeping sack. It was all placed in a single bag that I placed on my back, and, using only the power of my body, I carried it and myself across 200km over 10 days. But before that, when I was sitting in my bedroom at, home packing my bag for the first time, I realized I had too much stuff. Through a long process and many small decisions, I removed 4 lbs from my pack. I knew I didn’t need 6 pairs of socks, an extra book, a winter hat, or a fourth shirt, but deciding to leave each of those things behind filled me with a little bit of fear. I was accustomed to having so much more - and I felt a little vulnerable without “my stuff.” 

Despite the energy it originally took to pare down, the minimalism soon became extremely freeing. I knew exactly what I had, and knew where it was. I normally have trouble keeping track of my things, but on the Camino, I had so few things that I didn’t have to put any work into keeping track of them. I had exactly what I needed, nothing in excess, nothing to lose. Looking around my room at the stuff that I “love” it now feels a little confining. I have too many choices when picking out my clothes, I have so many things to keep track of, I have too many nick nacks that I can’t seem to get rid of. Owning things takes energy. 

It was also freeing to know that I had the power to move. I had the physical power to  move my own body, and to bring all of my belongings with me. I also was not attached to any one location like I am at my home, or even when on vacation. Every night I slept on a different bed, in a different building in a different town. I was untethered. My identity was separated from anything I owned or any place I lived. Instead I identified with the experience, the path, and the people. 

The ​practice ​ of daily walking also freed and empowered me. It freed me from hurrying and gave me time to think. We had no need to go faster than 3 miles per hour and there was little rush. Unlike when driving in a car, I had plenty of time to notice everything around me, especially since I was fully immersed in the environment. The repetitive, soothing, nature of walking offered great time for thinking and talking. It was also incredible when I realized that for ten days my only source of transportation had been walking - its incredible the things our body can do that we forget to give it credit for!

On the Camino I remember feeling like it was the first time I was truly living. Not that I felt suddenly awake after a long time stumbling through a dreary dream, but thinking about school or my experiences at home was like recalling the plotline of a movie. My life in Vermont didn’t feel as important or real once I was in Spain.  Also, during the daily walk, I remembered the evening as if it had been nothing more than a dream. But when I ate dinner with my fellow pilgrims, the walk that we had completed just hours ago felt unreal, like I had made it up in my head. I think that maybe I was fully in the moment for the first time. Although I did think about the past and the future, none of those thoughts or feelings distracted me from the present moment. Even when I was homesick or my feet were hurting was still grounded and snugly in the moment. Nothing felt as important as the events surrounding me.

It is interesting that never staying still made me feel grounded. Despite our moving, and always being in a new place, we had a very consistent routine. We got up early and packed up, we would walk about a half mile until we found a good place to eat. We would eat toast and jelly or a pastry, and coffee or freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. We would walk for a few more miles until we needed a restroom or water. At about 1:00 we would stop once again for lunch, usually we would get sandwiches, or an egg, or grab snacks at a small grocery store. At about 3:00 we would arrive at our new albergue. Exhausted, we all would take off our shoes, and begin getting ready to shower. There were usually only a few showers, so we took turns. Within a few hours everyone would have showered, changed into clean clothes, and have their bags unpacked and their new beds made. At some point in there, we each would have paid the small fee for the albergue and gotten our pilgrim passports stamped. We would then relax for the next few hours in the sun - which after a full day of walking was the best thing you could do. At about 6 or 7 each night we would eat dinner, either together at the albergue or in small groups at restaurants around the city. Then, we would talk, write, read or play card games until 9 or 10 at night, when the albergue’s lights would be turned out and we would all fall into a wonderful but uncomfortable sleep. The next day, we would do it all over again.

Again, I think I am still digesting my experiences on the Camino, and I’m still reflecting on it. But already it has taught me a lot about how I want to live my life. I know that although I experienced the Camino the other 11 pilgrims from Essex Vermont, we all had our own experiences and probably our own takeaways from the trip. It is impossible for my journal and reflection to fully reflect the pilgrimage of 12 people, but I hope that it gives a satisfactory taste of our experience. 

Link to The Full Pilgrim's Journal!

Learning to Move as a Unit

Our 135 mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain was a joint effort between the Holy Family/St. Lawrence and St. Pius parishes. What better way to promote unity than asking a medley of persons from both parishes to work together!  At the start the other pilgrims and I were practically strangers, but we quickly grew closer.
“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13). On the first day of our 135 mile pilgrimage we stopped in front of a small stone chapel to pray and reflect on this gospel passage. These were the words we read; the calling of Jesus to his disciples to go and serve all. The apostles went out and performed their duty wonderfully, but we need to remember that this call is not a one person job. It takes two people, one who washes and one who becomes washed. As we walked through Spain our group had no shortage of washers, but many times we found it hard to let ourselves be washed. It’s ironic really, how we get so wrapped up in trying to emulate Jesus in his generous giving that we forget that he received plenty: from banquets with tax collectors to even having his own feet washed with tears and anointed with oil. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to simply let another do good works. Over the course of our walk I noticed the others and myself pridefully refusing support, but as the trek wore on being helped became as easy as helping.
A will to be helpful doesn’t matter, though, if we don’t know what is needed. Paying attention proved to be the next big thing I learned.  This was tough because I’m generally a rather introverted person, but as we got closer to Santiago I tried to take note of my fellow pilgrims and get to know them better. This really kicked off after an incident on the trail where we had split into two groups and proceeded to lose each other. When the first group stopped at a cafe for a snack and the second group kept going everyone panicked a little. After this taste of failure we made an effort to look out for one another; paying attention to where the others were and what they needed. This shift in focus made us move as a unit instead of a collection of individual persons. I believe that if our world tries to live this way we won’t be able to help but be unified in Christ. That may take time, but I’ll settle for bringing our parishes together as a good start.
Looking back, I can see that our parishes have already started coming together. To even get us to Spain we needed an enormous amount of help, and when my fellow pilgrims and I asked, money came pouring in from both parishes. For this phenomenal generosity I want to formally thank everyone who donated to our pilgrimage, for seeing our need and washing our feet. All those who gave reflected the image of Jesus. None of this could have happened without you. Thank you and God bless.
Val Laverty