|Large numbers of pilgrims arriving!|
This morning I got an email from a friend. “John, what is happening in Santiago? You haven’t written a blog for ages!”
I’m sorry. Life is so busy at the moment. Two new Amigos arrive every two weeks, pilgrim numbers are increasing, the weather has changed from torrential rain, to sun and torrential rain, to sun, sun, sun.
So to bring you all up to date:
The Amigos project is now about half way through the pilot phase of 6 months. In that time some 60,000 pilgrims have been welcomed in the Pilgrims’ Office by the “Amigos in the blue T shirts” as they have become known. Wearing the blue T shirts are volunteers who give up two weeks of their time and pay for their own travel and subsistence to come and live in Santiago to be of service to their fellow pilgrims. Wearing the blue T shirts are people from every profession and background who share one thing in common – they are all pilgrims who have walked to Santiago. Wearing the blue T shirts are some of the warmest and strongest personalities I have ever met.
|Mario and Kay on duty|
|William off duty|
Amigos one and two, the bhoys, Sean and Larry were followed by the much more demure ladies, Patro and Laraine. They were replaced by two characters, one larger than life and the other utterly understated. William Griffiths, doctor, man of letters, ex chairman of the CSJ and general all round bon viveur was joined by Mario Pozzati-Tiepolo, Egyptologist and caligrapher. Both were an instant hit with the staff of the Pilgrims’ Office and the arriving pilgrims. Both threw themselves into the spirit of the Welcome Service with William presiding in the courtyard with a booming welcome to everyone in many languages and Mario more gently ushering pilgrims to the desks to receive their Compostelas. During their two weeks pilgrim numbers grew and we very much welcomed the assistance of an American professor, Kay Jenkins and one of her students who worked several hours each day. Kay and Dorothy were with a larger group of students from the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies at William and Mary College in Virginia who spent some weeks in study as well as walking part of the Camino Francés.
The two week periods fly in quickly because everyone works so hard and soon William and Mario were to depart, William back to his consulting rooms and Mario to walk the Camino Inglés. Several of the Amigos either tag a short camino on to the end or the beginning of their stint. They were followed by Mildred and Elizabeth.
|Mildred and Elizabeth - the Golden Girls|
On their very first day they welcomed a group of strapping cyclists who were jubilant at arriving in Santiago and who laughed and joked as the queue snaked forward. They were tickled pink to be welcomed by these two English ladies and immediately, and very loudly, they nicknamed them “Las Chicas de Oro”. The “Golden Girls”. The Amigos blushed, everyone laughed, the rest of the pilgrims in the queue repeated the nickname in turn and of course the rogues in the office made sure that for every day of their stay they were called the Golden Girls. They really took them to their hearts and they were very sorry to see the ladies leave.
But leave they had to because Nicole and Julie were next to arrive. Julie is a former teacher and for many years has been the organiser of hospitaleros at one of the CSJ’s albergues at Rabanal. Nicole who lectures in the anthropology of religion at the University of Glasgow walked into Santiago on the Camino Primitivo from Lugo. As they arrived so did the crowds and they spent two weeks of very hard work marshalling pilgrims when it was raining to get them through the office quickly and sympathising with them when it was oppressively hot.
|Nicole and Julie|
Before going any further I want to say that to become an Amigo you don’ t have to have a professional background or be a lady of a certain age. The only requirement is that you are a pilgrim. So why have I mentioned their backgrounds? For one reason only. That reason is revealed in what the staff of the office say in the staff room about the Amigos. They wonder about us. They speculate about why we do it. They find it very hard to believe. I eavesdrop from time to time. “I mean” said one, “ why would a man who can read and write hierloglyphics help wash the cups and welcome pilgrims all day?” Another joined in, “the two ladies are actually the Golden Girls, at their age why have they paid to come here to stand all day saying hello to pilgrims?” and then, “and the other one, she’s just been a hospitalera and now she is here doing more.” All of this said with a kind of incredulous wonder. Yet every single pilgrim who reads this page will understand in an instant the desire to put something back, to repay the Camino for its gifts to us, to be of service to other pilgrims as people have been of service to us. This lies as much at the heart of the Amigos service as it is at the heart of the pilgrimage.
Over the course of these first three months the Amigos have also welcomed various groups. Some we’ve known about in advance – pilgrims walking to raise funds for the St Luke’s Cancer Centre in Guildford, students from University College Dublin, the members of the Tylers and Bricklayers Livery Company in London and more. Then just the other day after Nicole and Julie left and Susan and Angela had arrived (more of them another time) the Peterborough Pilgrims Youth Pilgrimage arrived.
|Even the Bishop has to queue for his Compostela|
The Peterborough Pilgrims are a Confraternity of pilgrims in the Anglican Diocese of Peterborough who had brought a group of about 12 young people plus adults to walk the Camino Francés from León. They wrote to me in advance so that the Amigos could welcome the young people. We also arranged a few special things for them: their own private service in one of the chapels of the Cathedral and a meeting with Don Jenaro the Director of the Pilgrims’ Office who wished to give them his personal welcome to the city. We arranged a splendid victory dinner in the evening. We also arranged for the group to give an “Invocation”, an address, during the pilgrims' mass in which they would thank all those who help pilgrims. The Peterborough Group were joined for the last few kilometres of their pilgrimage by Bishop John Holbrook, the Anglican Bishop of Brixworth in the Peterborough Diocese. He would give the Invocation.
The Anglican and Catholic Churches are not fully aligned and often the presence of Anglican priests, let alone a Bishop at a Catholic Mass causes some anxiety. I discussed this with the Cathedral authorities well in advance and was relieved when everything was agreed ...what they would wear, where they would sit, who would read what etc. However when we got to the Cathedral 20 minutes before the Pilgrims’ Mass it seemed all arrangements had been forgotten. No one quite knew what was going on. Would the Anglican Bishop process in with the others and sit at the side as agreed? Errr... Would the Anglican Bishop read the address in English and it would be repeated in Spanish as we had agreed? Errr... The minutes ticked by...the botafumeiro hung expectantly waiting on Mass starting, Joaquin waved as he turned on the organ to start the music. Still we stood, visiting Bishop and young people, not knowing what was happening. I spoke to Don Jenaro who happened to be in Confessional Number 2. With an air of complete calm he said... “the Invocation will only be in English, go and speak to the security man with the yellow jacket” and so I did. “Ah yes, the other Bishop” and he pointed to a chair. This was the very chair, in the very position, on which sits the King of Spain or his representative on the Feast of St James. I quickly got the Bishop with his purple shirt and hiking boots into position. Frankly we didn’t know what to expect. Would he be ignored? Given a cursory welcome? How would the address go down if no one understood it?
As the Cathedral got more packed and the singing nun finished the rehearsal I had a feeling of dread. This was going to be bad. My heart sank when I saw the stern face of the black-cassocked Dean of the Cathedral approaching the altar. Don José Maria Diaz isn’t the most popular of characters. He can be very gruff and his sermons are traditional to say the least. “Oh my God” I thought, “he’s going to move the Bishop off that chair and into the congregation.” He walked over to the Bishop who stepped towards him. The two embraced like long lost friends. The Dean was beaming. I could see the welcome on his lips. And then the Dean bowed and kissed the Bishop John's ring. The traditional sign of respect. As this was happening the young people and adults of the Peterborough Pilgrimage still carrying their rucksacks were led to sit on the steps at the altar rails. The music started, the people sang and the entrance procession began. Like the Anglican Bishop many of the priests still had on their hiking boots. So too did the visiting Spanish Bishop who was presiding at the Mass. There then followed a service overflowing with kindness and generosity to this Anglican Bishop who was perhaps the first, or certainly one of the very few to have spoken at the Pilgrims Mass before the Tomb of St James. After the reading of the Gospel the book was taken as usual to be kissed by the presiding Spanish Bishop then at the signal from Dean it was taken solemnly to be kissed by the Anglican Bishop. Then Bishop John was invited to give the address, which was followed by a similar speech from a Spanish group. Mass proceeded as usual until communion. This was the danger moment in the entire ceremony because as yet Anglicans are not able to receive communion at a Catholic Mass. As if understanding the difficulty the Catholic Bishop approached the Anglican Bishop who knelt before him to receive his blessing. As communion ended the botafumeiro was lowered into position and the Dean beckoned to Bishop John to come forward. A red box on the altar was opened and incense from it sprinkled by Anglican and Catholic Bishops and priests on to the charcoal. As the botafumeiro flew I saw at least one Bishop dab their eyes. As the botafumeiro was brought to rest the Dean spoke to everyone explaining that his Cathedral was pleased to welcome this Bishop from a different Christian tradition and that a symbol of their fellowship was the gift of incense, made in England, which had been presented by the Peterborough Pilgrims and used at the Mass today. The entire cathedral erupted in applause during which the Dean waved to Bishop John to join the Catholic Bishop for the final blessing. As the Catholic Bishop raised his hand in blessing the Anglican moved to bless only himself. The Catholic stopped. “We give this blessing together” he said. And so it was done.
In the final photograph with the Dean and Bishop John are people of several faiths and none. They are all joined by the Camino to Santiago.