With Angy outside the Pilgrim Office
Arriving in Santiago was perhaps more emotional than I had expected. After almost 5 weeks of walking the sense of anticipation grew as my son Gabriel and I entered the outer perimeter of the city. Finally we glimpsed the soaring towers of the Cathedral of Santiago…our destination. Before we entered the ancient church however Gabriel and I wanted to check in at Pilgrim’s Office to receive our final stamp and Compostellas certifying we had completed our Camino journey. (Also, that was the order Martin Sheen did it in The Way so that was how I was doing it)
As my son and I searched the cobble stoned streets around the Cathedral for the office I heard my name called out, “Steve!”
I turned to see Angy, a tall Korean girl from Argentina (and the fastest walker I met on the Camino) with a big smile approaching us. ”I was hoping I would see you again” she said as we greeted each other.
In that moment I experienced an emotion I would feel many more times over the next 2 days or so as I embraced friends that had been journeying with me for weeks.
It was the joy of seeing a fellow traveler who had shared the same challenges and trials I experienced and had overcome to arrive at the destination. In that moment the bunk beds, communal showers, snoring, wind, rain, cold, heat, blisters, shin splints, aches, and pains of the journey were replaced with the joy of seeing a friend and fellow pilgrim in Santiago.
We had arrived!
I had a decision to make a couple days earlier and that was to rush on ahead so I could walk to the ocean from Santiago. I wrestled with this for a while and finally decided to tarry in the city and savor the arrival with my son and fellow pilgrims.
It was possibly the best decision I made on the whole trip as I had not appreciated that much of the Camino, although an individual journey, is not done in isolation.
In some ways the Camino de Santiago is done alone…together!
As we gathered for the Pilgrim’s Mass in the cathedral there was many hugs, tears, laughter, as people encountered each other. It made me think of the TV show Lost where in the final episode the characters who are now in the afterlife find themselves all drawn to a particular church. The main character Jack asks his father why they are all there:
JACK: You…are you real?
CHRISTIAN: I should hope so. Yeah, I’m real. You’re real, everything that’s ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church…they’re real too.
JACK: They’re all…they’re all dead?
CHRISTIAN: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some…long after you.
JACK: But why are they all here now?
CHRISTIAN: Well there is no “now” here.
JACK: Where are we, dad?
CHRISTIAN: This is the place that you…that you all made together, so that you could find one another. The most…important part of your life, was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
Jack then enters the church to see all of his friends. There is that joy on everyone’s faces as they reunite with friends they had shared life with together.
Looking around the cathedral during Mass I saw many familiar faces. Some had arrived in Santiago before me, some after. But we were all together there now!
Outside the Cathedral with friends!
And there was a lot of joy! Some people I had gotten to know well, some only in passing, but the sight of these fellow pilgrims sitting here together in this church was emotionally very powerful.
After the Mass began I looked across the long Cathedral interior and noticed a side door open briefly. Michael, a Colombian-American I had encountered for the last 3 weeks entered with his mother and slipped into the back row.
That sense of joy hit me again.
I tapped on Gabriel’s shoulder, “Look, Michael and Esperanza. They made it!”
Yes, they were a little late…but they arrived in the end.
In that moment I had a strong sense of this being a shadow of the Kingdom of God and the pure joy we will have when we see others that we had journeyed in life together with finally arrived at the destination.
We all arrive at different times, and some may even arrive late…but eventually we get to Santiago!