Camino Barefoot Pilgrim's Diary
May 28, 2010
I've been living as a hermit for almost three weeks on top of this mountain overlooking the city of Cebu. I spend most of my time relaxing, reflecting about my life, praying, fasting, reading, editing my book project, playing the flute and violin, practicing Spanish, performing taichi, and finalizing my itinerary for the Camino de Santiago. Of course, I also run/walk barefoot 2-3 hours a day. There is a mini-forest nearby that I love to explore.
I am reading three books: To Care for the Earth (Sean McDonagh), God's Fool: Life & Times of Francis of Assisi (Julien Green), and Wildmen, Warriors & Kings: Masculine Spirituality & the Bible (Patrick Arnold).
According to Arnold there are 2 archetypes that symbolize the male drive for freedom and can be the basis for masculine spirituality: the Wildman & the Pilgrim. The most ancient male paradigm is the Wildman which represents man's primordial connections with nature. "He represents male earthiness, that grubby and gritty manly energy radically free."
The Pilgrim acts out the "sacred ritual over many days and across numerous miles ... recreating the essentials of his own hero journey. He has become the image in the psyche for all the leavings we must do in life, all the detaching and separation we must undergo in order to find our way again to new life, new challenges, and higher danger."
According to Arnold, Jesus integrated in his life the Wildman & the Pigrim besides other other male archetypes. St. Francis of Assisi also exemplified the Wildman & the Pilgrim.
As I reflect on my own life I realize that I am a Wildman and a Pilgrim at heart.
As a Wildman I have regularly set aside time to live as a part time hermit on top of this mountain for the last 30 years. I have climbed Mt. Apo (the highest mountain in the Philippines) seven times. I occasionally run/walk around Samal Island and sleep under the stars on the beach. When running/walking barefoot, I like the feel of the earth, rocks and grass which energize me. It is when I am close to nature that I can truly sense the Divine Presence.
I am also a Pilgrim at heart. I love to go on long journeys on foot or by bicycle. In 1994, I walked alone from Rome to Assisi for six days, sleeping under the stars at night. I biked for peace across the Philippines in 2000, around Israel in 2005, around Mindanao in 2006, and around the Philippines in 2008, covering over 5000 km in 56 days. A few months ago, I ran/ walked across the mountains of Mindanao, covering 390 km in 9 days. I can truly sense the Divine Presence in my long journeys.
The following months, I will once again live the life of the Pilgrim & Wildman. I am leaving for Rome two weeks from now, after a month I go to the shrine of Our Lady Lourdes in France and then do my running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, starting at the foothills o the Pyrenees mountains, across Northern Spain, and ending in Santiago de Compostela. Like St. Francis of Assisi, I would like to do it barefoot. I will also be sleeping under the stars most of the time. After the pilgrimage I will come back here on this mountain and live as a hermit for two months before going back to Davao and resume my life as a professor, and a warrior for peace, life & the environment.
June 12, 2010
After spending four weeks as a hermit in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu, I finally descended the other day. My journey as a pilgrim is about to start. I will be leaving for the airport a few minutes from now. In a couple of hours I will be taking the flight to Rome, Italy.
It's been 15 years since I left Rome after finishing my doctorate at the Gregorian University in 1995 . I will be returning as a pilgrim to the city which I love so much - bella Roma! I will also attend a summer workshop on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue.
From Rome, I fly to Madrid on July 10 and from there find my way to the French village of St. Jean Pied a Port at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains where I will begin my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage across Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I'm excited and also filled with anxiety, wondering if I can - like Francis of Assisi- do the pilgrimage barefoot. I brought my pair sandals, in case the temperature rises over 35*C and the road becomes scorching hot and I will have to use it until it is safe to walk barefoot again. But definitely no shoes. I am relying on Divine Providence to enable me to complete my journey safely. I am also bringing my ultralight tent so that I can sleep under the stars.
Rome and Santiago de Compostela - here I come! Buen Camino!
June 15, 2010
I arrived here in Rome yesterday morning. After a couple of hours of rest, I went out for a 4-hour walk around the city and came back in time for the mass at the shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in the afternoon. I went to bed early, trying to shake the jet lag.
Very early this morning I ran for two hours along my favorite running route: the Colosseum, Terme de Caracalla, Circo Massimo, Capitoline hill, etc. I was filled with memories of the runs I did here during the four years that I was studying in Rome (1991-1995). This was also where I trained and ran the marathon in 1995. The same beautiful view - what is different is that I am 15-19 years older and I am doing it barefoot (which I thought would have been impossible then). There was one famous runner who ran barefoot in Rome before - during the Rome Olympics in 1960 - and this was Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner who won the marathon. So this morning, I felt that I was running in the footsteps of Abebe Bikila. Now I can feel the freedom and the joy of running barefoot. Running on the ancient cobblestones is not really difficult or painful. So this is what I will be doing everyday while I am in Rome for a month. This is my final training for my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month.
June 20, 2010
At 7:43 this morning I took the train to Assisi. By 10:15 I was already at the Assisi train station which was still 3 km to the old town. Instead of taking the bus, I just walked up. It was quite cold when I reached the Basilica of St. Francis and was in time for the mass. After the mass, I prayed before the tomb of St. Francis. I prayed for his intercession -that I will be able to run/walk barefoot on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month - following his example.
After the mass, I walked around the town of Assisi - visiting the Basilica of St. Clare and the church/convent of San Damiano. Walking barefoot on the streets of Assisi was very pleasant, the pavement was smooth - except the rough road to San Damiano. I was very conscious of the fact that this was the same road that Francis and his followers walked on - barefoot.
I visited the room where St. Clare died and also her tomb. I prayed for a very special intention, remembering a special friend who is now in a Poor Clare monastery very far away and whom I have not seen for over 5 years.
It rained in the afternoon but I kept on walking around town. At 4 pm, I walked back to the train station to catch the last train back to Rome.
Being in Assisi brought back memories of the last time I was here - in 1994. Instead of taking the train from Rome to Assisi, I walked for six days carrying a backpack and tent, sleeping under the stars at night, and reaching Assisi on the Feast of St. Clare. I slept at the doorstep of the basilica of St. Clare that night and the following day took the train back to Rome. It was after that experience that I dreamed of walking on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela someday. This dream will become a reality next month.
June 23, 2010
I was at St. Peter's Basilica yesterday afternoon - together with the participants of the summer course on Ecumenical and Interreligious Movements. I've been here so many times before and it's good to be back - after 15 years. There were a lot of people - but it was difficult to distinguish the tourists from the pilgrims. Well, one can be both.
The most moving experience for me was going below the basilica and visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the other popes, especially John Paul II and John XXIII - my favorite popes. I said prayer before their tombs. Unfortunately, taking pictures of the tombs was prohibited.
I believe that what matters most is visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the popes after a long journey, and not just seeing the beautiful basilica and the works of art of Michaelangelo and Bernini.
In the middle ages, there were three major centers of pilgrimage - Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Pilgrims would often go on a long journey - usually on foot - to reach these places. Now, it is easier and faster to get to these places. And it is difficult to distinguish the tourists and the pilgrims. At least at the Santiago de Compostela only those who have journeyed on foot (at least 100 km) or by bicycle (at least 200 km) can get the pilgrim's certificate. This is what I will be doing next month - journeying barefoot along the 800 km trail of the Camino Frances starting at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and ending at the cathedral where St. James is believed to be entombed.
In a pilgrimage, what matters is not just the destination but the journey. The journey is both inner/spiritual and physical/geographical. The long physical/geographical journey moves the pilgrim to an inner/spiritual journey. This means moving at a slow, relax pace. There is no need to rush.
July 4, 2010
The second week of summer course on Ecumenical and Inter-religious Dialogue ended last Friday. We have discussed so far the Vatican II documents of Ecumenism and the Catholic Church's dialogue with various Christian churches and ecclesial communities (Orthodox Churches, Anglican communion, Lutherans, and Pentecostal Movements, etc).
Yesterday was a free day so I decided to explore Ostia Antica - the ruins of an ancient Roman village at the mouth of the Tiber river. Originally, I was planning to hike there from Rome and take the train coming back. But I woke up late so I took the train going there and hiked back to Rome.
I reached Ostia Antica just before ten and explored the ancient village for more than two hours barefoot. I found it easy to walk barefoot on the ancient cobblestones and dirt road even as the temperature rose to 32 degrees celsius. I decided to rest by midday and ate the sandwich I brought. It was very quiet, there were very few tourists.
I was alone by myself and sat under a shade for over an hour meditating and reading a book I brought with me - "The Second Journey" written by Gerald O'Collins, SJ (my professor at the Gregorian University in Rome 17 years ago). He writes about the three journeys that we usually undertake in our life - the first journey (at the morning of our life -from childhood to adulthood), the second journey (at the noontime and afternoon of our life - midlife), the third journey (the evening of our life --old age).
O'Collins writes that the second journey may be undertaken by those who are 35-40 years old, while some do it later - when they are in their mid-50s or even as late as the 60s. The second journey is primarily an inner journey, but at times it is also accompanied by an outer journey: "It is the inner component which brings about a second journey. The external traveling has only a subordinate function. All the same, the shift from place to place appears to be a steady feature of authentic midlife journeys."
He further observes that the second journey involves the search for new meanings, fresh values and different goals. Persons on the second journey want more out of life.
O'Collins also writes that "people on second journeys repeatedly betray a deep sense of loneliness. This loneliness should eventually turn into the aloneness of a quiet and integrated self-possession. But before that happens, they will find themselves in Dante's "dark wood."
According to O'Collins the journey terminates with the arrival of new wisdom of a true adult.
"It is a wisdom of one who has regained equilibrium, stabilized and found fresh purposes and new dreams. It is the wisdom that gives some things up, let some things die and accept human limitations. It is the wisdom that agrees, 'I cannot expect anyone to understand me fully.' It is the wisdom that has learned through suffering to live with human finitude and admit the inevitability of old age and death."
O'Collins uses the "pilgrimage" as the metaphor for the second journey. He writes that the second journeys end in two ways.
(1) the pilgrims reach a new place and a fresh commitment
(2) or else they return to their original place and commitment, only to reaffirm them in a new way.
For O'Collins, prayer is an essential component of this journey:
"Those persons whose lives have been consciously touched by God will not readily come to journey's end without prayer. Only that can turn such persons from being mere vagrants into becoming genuine pilgrims. Nothing less than the deep experience of God can ensure that their second journey will lead somewhere in the end. It takes faithful praying to transform incoherent wanderings into a genuine midlife journey."
I was deeply touched, reading these lines. It seems to describe where I am now. As I make my pilgrimage in Rome, in Lourdes and on the Camino de Santiago, I have become more aware of the second journey that I am undertaking.
At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, after this period of rest, meditation and spiritual reading, I hiked 30 km back to Rome - along the via Ostiense. I reached our place after eight in the evening.
July 9, 2010
This morning, the summer course on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue finally ended here in Rome. Tomorrow, I fly to Madrid for my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I will spend a couple of days in Madrid and then take the train to Bayonne, France. I will make a side trip to Lourdes and from there go to St. Jean Pied de Port where I will begin my running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. As much as possible, I will cover the 800 km route barefoot like St. Francis and many medieval pilgrims. However, I have a lot of doubts if I can really do it. So, I will wear my sandals when the road gets too harsh or hot. I will be doing some running and also lots of walking breaks. The primary goal is reaching my destination on foot in 26 days and at the same time journeying inward. It will be a mobile spiritual retreat, involving meditation, reflection and prayer. It will also be accompanied by penitential acts (barefoot walking/running and fasting during the day, sleeping under the stars at night most of the time).
During the pilgrimage I will be praying for the following intentions:
(1) for healing - of several friends with cancer and for my own complete healing (hypertension, myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis)
(2) for a deeper experience and awareness of God's presence in my life, stronger faith and ongoing personal conversion, and discovering God's will for me in the coming years.
(3) for peace in the Philippines (especially Mindanao), and that a final peace agreement will be reached between the Government and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and the Government and the NDF (National Democratic Front).
(4) for the new administration of President Noynoy Aquino - that he will be able to lead the Filipino people in transforming Philippine society, get rid of corruption, bring about peace, justice and progress.
I am aware that this pilgrimage will be a time of grace. I rely on God's providence and the kindness of the strangers I will meet on the way.
July 10, 2010
I finished packing at 11 pm last night and set the alarm for 5 am. I couldn’t fall asleep so I just spent the time sitting on the armchair – reflecting, meditating and praying. I reflected on the pilgrimage I am about to start – and the prayers of petition I am bringing with me.
Finally I was able to sleep at 2:30 am. After less than 3 hours I was awakened by my alarm clock. I left the Redemptorist building in Via Merulana and walked to the Termini train station, carrying my backpack and wearing the scallop shell around my neck. As I sat in the train carrying me to the airport, I was struck by an overwhelming sensation. I became misty-eyed. So this is how it feels to be a pilgrim starting his journey. I felt I was being led to a place and an experience by something or Someone – rather than going to a place on my own volition. While in the airport, I was greeted by an airport security man who recognized the scallop shell. He told me that he had walked the Camino de Santiago.
The Alitalia jet landed here in Madrid before 11 am and I reached the Redemptorist house in Felix Boix in time for lunch. I was warmly welcomed by Fr. Laurentino the rector of the community and Fr. Alberto De Mingo – a Japanese-Spanish Redemptorist teaching in the Alphonsianum in Rome and who had walked part of the Camino.
July 13, 2010
At 8 am this morning, I took the train from Madrid to Hendaya. It was an Alta Velocita train (high speed) reaching 250 km/hr. I spent most of the time looking at the view as we crossed the Spanish countryside, passing a lot of farms, villages and cities.
The most beautiful view was the Basque region with the mountains overlooking the Pyrenees. At high speed, it was difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
I alighted in Hendaya and took a connecting train that crossed the border to France and then to Lourdes. I finally reached Lourdes at 7 pm. I went to the “Secour Catholique” office to ask for lodging. A friend told me while in Rome that as a priest I can get free lodging here. But the office was already closed so I had to go around the village to look for a place to stay for the night. The pilgrim hostels were full and the available hotels were too expensive. I asked around in the bars where I could pitch my tent but everyone told me that camping within the village was not allowed by law. So I just proceeded to the Church beside the grotto of the Lady of Lourdes. By then, a huge crowd of pilgrims had gathered to start the evening procession. I watched the procession from above the steps. As the pilgrims sang the “Ave, ave Maria” and raised their lighted candles I felt overwhelmed.
I was moved to tears when a sick man who was being carried in a carriage waved his hand at me and I waved back praying for his healing. I then came down and joined the procession. As I walked slowly with the pilgrims, I fingered my rosary beads and sang with them. The image of a pilgrim people on a journey through life entered my mind.
After the procession, I went to the garden near the bank of the river and ate my sandwich. I found a place where I could pitch my tent. But before doing that, I went to the nearby grotto and attended the mass which ended at 11:30 pm. I stayed on for an hour to keep vigil and pray and then headed back to the spot where I pitched my tent and slept under the stars.
July 14, 2010
I woke up at 5 am and immediately rolled my tent and packed up. I went around the shrine and the village until 9 am and boarded the train that brought me back to Bayonne and a connecting train to St. Jean Pied de Port.
I saw several pilgrims with their backpack and scallop shells on the train. Among them was Lisa – a pretty Austrian university student who looks like the actress Julia Roberts especially when she smiles. It was raining when we reached St. Jean Pied de Port by 4 pm and we headed straight to the pilgrim office to get our pilgrim passport or ‘credencial’ and get lodging for the night. I went to the Municipal Albergue and got a bunk in the dormitory. There were already some pilgrims, among them a couple from Slovakia, another couple from France, two Austrians (including Lisa). I went out to explore the village and get something to eat in the local bar.
When I came back, I noticed the lawn at the back the Albergue which had a beautiful view of the Pyrenees mountain. So I went back to the dormitory and got my backpack and relocated to the lawn where I pitched my tent. My air-mattress and air-pillow were comfortable enough to sleep on. I prefer to sleep alone in my tent outside than sleep with strangers in a dormitory. Besides, I don’t want to give the other pilgrims a sleepless night, since I snore a lot.
July 15, 2010
I had a very good night sleep in my tent last night. I woke up at 5 am and after rolling my tent and packing up I had a cup of coffee. By 6 am, I was already on the road ascending the Pyrenees following the Route Napoleon. Many of the pilgrims had started earlier. My pack weighed over 9 kilos.
I met Lisa on the road and had a conversation with her. She told me that she was starting her study in psychology at the opening of the coming semester. She needs time to think about the next stage of her life. After a while I went ahead since I had to run, regretting that I could not find more time to be with her.
It was a perfect weather for trekking. The sky was cloudy and the temperature was 15 degrees Celsius – really cool. The first 15 km asphalt road with grassy shoulder made running/hiking barefoot easy. So was the soft earth and grass on the forest trail. I was actually doing more running than walking. I passed a lot of pilgrims who were walking slowly. It was literally a runner’s high. I made it a point to take a brief rest every hour.
As I was running in the Pyrenees, I remembered a recurring anxiety dream as child – which was running barefoot. I also had a dream three years ago – this time I was running barefoot on mud and then grass, trying to keep up with a little boy who was running ahead and I was happy. Now, here I am running barefoot without feeling any anxiety and feeling so happy like a little boy.
The ascent to Col Lepoeder, the highest point of the Pyrenees, was a bit difficult due to the large sharp rocks, and so was the steep descent to Roncesvalles, on a forest with a path strewn with small sharp rocks which slowed me down. I had to walk slowly to avoid hurting my feet. This time, some of the pilgrims passed me. They could walk fast on that kind of trail with their hiking boots. Anyway, it was not race.
I reached Roncesvalles at 3 pm after running/hiking the whole day, covering 27 km. After having my “credencial” stamped at the monastery, I went to the Albergue which could accommodate over 200 pilgrims. It was a large dormitory with double-bunk beds. The pilgrims were asked to put their boots in a rack. The “hospitaleros” were surprised to see that I was not wearing any hiking boots. One of them took a picture of my bare feet. A German pilgrim named Sven asked me: “What happened? Did you leave behind your walking boots?” I answered: “Oh, I was in hurry and I was worried I might miss my flight and I forgot my shoes.” He laughed, realizing I was joking.
I attended the vespers and Pilgrim’s mass at 7 pm, led by the monks. At the end of the mass, all the pilgrims gathered around the altar for the pilgrims’ blessing. I stayed for a while to pray and meditate and then I went back to the Albergue to take my shower. I then took my “bocadillo” (Spanish sandwich) and ate alone in a bench – my first meal for the day. It was getting cold and windy. Sleeping outside in a tent was out of question. So this was the first time for me to sleep in a dormitory with around two hundred pilgrims from different parts of Europe and North America. Many of them started in St. Jean Pied de Port while others were just starting in Roncesvalles. By 10 pm, the lights will be turned off and the Albergue closed.
July 16, 2010
At around 2 am, as I was sound asleep, the Italian pilgrim sleeping near me woke me up and whispered to me that I was snoring so loudly that he couldn’t sleep. I apologized and changed my sleeping position. It took me a while to get back to sleep since I heard all kinds of noise from pilgrims who were snoring – including the Italian pilgrim who woke me up earlier. Well, he got his revenge.
I was already awake by 5 am and packed up my things. By 6 am, the Albergue was opened I immediately set out to continue my journey this side of the Pyrenees. I continued to walk through the forest and then villages. During the first hour, the trail was still soft as I went through the forest path. After that there was no more soft earth or grassy surface or asphalt. It was mostly gravel. Walking barefoot was very agonizing. Running on this kind of surface was out of question. My pace was very slow – averaging 3 km per hour. Hundreds of pilgrims passed me – all them walking very fast, as if they were in a hurry to reach the next Albergue. Some of them stopped and shook my hand and ask to have a picture taken with them. It was the first time they met a barefoot pilgrim.
A lady in her early sixties caught up with me and we talked for a while. She introduced herself as Mariola from Poland. She wasn’t carrying a backpack. She told me that her husband, Jan, was assisting her on a support vehicle – carrying her backpack and ordering her to ride the car when she had done enough walking for the day. This wasn’t easy for both of them since the Camino trail was far from the highway, although sometimes it run parallel the highway or crosses it.
Along the way, I saw three markers of those who have died while walking the Camino. These markers were adorned with crosses and pictures of the pilgrims. I wondered what they died of - accident or heart attack. This reminded me that it could also happen to me. More than three years ago, I was diagnosed with myocardial ischemia which means that an artery to the heart was so thick that it would lessen the flow of blood to the heart. My friend and confrere, Bishop Manny Cabajar had the same ailment and he recently had an operation. And here I was, hiking across the Pyrenees and Northern Spain. I was deeply aware of my vulnerability and mortality as I affirmed my dependence in God’s providence.
I reached Zubiri by 3 pm. Most of the pilgrims had already finished their day’s hike and had taken their lunch and siesta. I just took a long break and continued on to the next village. The last three hours was pure agony as I walked on gravel path. What annoyed me most was the sign “2 km to Larrasoana” which I saw three times along the way. I was happy seeing it the first time, but after 30 minutes it was still “2 km to Larrasona” and then after another 20 minutes it was still “2 km to Larrasoana.” I finally reached Larrasoana by 7 pm after covering 27 km or more. By then the Albergues were full. I was looking for a place to pitch my tent. Luckily, a woman at the bar told me that there was a hostel that could accommodate me. I had a room all to myself for 20 euro. After taking a shower, I ate my “bocadillo” and then time to go to bed.
July 17, 2010
I continued my journey at 6 am. I walked barefoot up and down several hills. The path was mostly rocky. I walked very slowly and was passed by hundreds of pilgrims – again. I reached Pamplona at noontime. There were no more bulls running in the streets (San Fermino festival ended a few days ago). By then the soles of my feet were sore. Although Pamplona is the usual stopping place for pilgrims – as recommended by the Pilgrim guidebooks – I decided to continue.
After leaving the city and walking towards Cizur Menor, the road became so hot that I had to wear my sandals. I was planning to climb the Alto de Perdon today and sleep in Uterga (33 km from Larrasoana) but I decided to stop in a village just before the Alto de Perdon. I was glad that I had my sandals on as I climbed the mountain – it was a gravel road and walking it at 2 pm would have been like walking on hot coals. As I walked, I realized the need to be aware of my own limitations, and the need to be flexible and not to rigidly stick to my own plans.
I reached Zariquiegui at 3 pm after hiking 26 km. I am staying in a small private hostel with 16 other pilgrims coming from Spain, England and Italy. I easily communicated with the Italian pilgrims (Marco, Antonio, Massimo, Ilaria and Simona). Most of them just started their pilgrimage in Pamplona today. During communal dinner everyone got to know one another and we had good sharing about our experiences over bread, pasta and wine. This is the first time that I shared a meal with other pilgrims and experienced a sense of community. It is often said that though each one makes his/her own Camino, we are never all alone. We meet pilgrims who become our friends and companions on the road and the Albergues. The evenings in the Albergues are the time for sharing meals and stories, although this does not always happen. The pilgrims we encounter on the Camino are very friendly and we easily bond with each other. It is easier to bond with fellow pilgrims if we walk the same pace and distance every day and end up in the same Albergue at night. For me, that it not easy since I walk slowly (especially when I hike barefoot) and I cover longer distances (the average distance for pilgrims is 25 km/day, while I intend to cover 30 km/day). So I often meet new faces every day. But there will always be some that I encounter more often.
I don’t usually introduce myself as a priest. I just give my name (Amado) and where I come from (Philippines). Whenever someone asks me what I do, I just tell them that I am professor (which is true). I think it is better this way during the early part so that there will be no inhibition from others and I can easily relate with them. They will eventually find out as the friendship deepens. But I won’t be able to hide my “priestly identity” throughout this pilgrimage. Besides, the name “Padre Amado Picardal” is written on my “credencial”. The first to know are often the “hospitaleros” of the Albergues - if they read more carefully the “credencial” before stamping on it – which isn’t always the case.
I don’t think I will be able to sleep under the stars tonight. It is cold and windy outside, and there is no lawn where I can pitch my tent. They will have to bear with my snoring – especially the pretty Ilaria who is sleeping near my bunk-bed.
July 18, 2010
While the other pilgrims were still asleep and snoring, I quietly left the Albergue. My feet were still sore so I decided to give them a break by wearing my sandals. It was still dark and cold as I ascended the Alto de Perdon. With my headlamp shining bright, I walked on the harsh and rocky path, always looking for the yellow arrow signs along the way. As I reached the peak the surface was softer so I walked barefoot for a while. By then, the sun had come out. I saw the silhouettes of the sculpted figures of pilgrims. I looked back and gazed at the distant Pyrenees and Pamplona. I look down at the valley below ahead me. As I was descending, the road became harsh again and I put on my sandals. No more barefoot walking for the rest of the day. I was walking and running at a faster pace and no pilgrim passed me.
After crossing the bridge of Puente La Reina, I followed a road which I thought was the Camino. After a while I couldn’t see any yellow arrow markings and I was worried. A car stopped and the driver told me that it was the wrong way. So, I went back until I found the right way.
At around noontime, I reached a small village called Lorca. I entered the church just in time for the start of the Sunday mass. I stayed on and after the mass, I continued my journey. It was very hot and I had to use my umbrella to protect me from the sun. I prayed the rosary as I walked alone. I reached Estella at 4 pm after covering 33 km and proceeded to the parish Albergue. One of the “hospitalera” was an Italian lady. When she stamped my “credencial” she noticed the “Padre” before my name and asked me if I was a priest and I said yes. We conversed in Italian and she told me that her brother was the rector of the Lateran University in Rome.
There were 20 other pilgrims in the Albergue and I didn’t know any of them. They came from different parts of Europe and there were two Koreans. As we all gathered for the communal meal the hospitalera asked me to lead the prayer. There was good conversation as we shared the bread, salad, pasta and wine.
After dinner, I saw the lawn at the back of the Albergue where I could pitch my tent and I told everyone that I would be sleeping there. When they asked why, I told them that I didn’t want to keep them awake with my loud snoring and besides, I prefer to sleep alone. They laughed and appreciated my concern for them.
July 19, 2010
Last night inside my tent I had the most comfortable sleep on the Camino so far. I also had one of those strange dreams which keeps recurring.
I woke up at 5 am and immediately rolled my tent, sleeping bag and air-mattress. By 6 am, I was already on the road. I tried to walk barefoot but my feet were still very sore and the road was harsh, so after a while I decided to wear my sandals. I didn’t want to damage my feet or develop blisters. I began to doubt if I could still walk the rest of the Camino barefoot. Should I give up the whole idea and just wear my sandals the rest of the way? I told myself that I will take it one day at a time. I have to allow my sore feet to rest and recover. I will only walk barefoot if my feet feel alright and allow me to do so and if the path was not too harsh. There’s no use forcing myself. It is not the barefoot walking that is important but just walking and finishing the Camino and making the inner/spiritual journey.
I have been asked since the first day why I am doing the Camino barefoot. My answer is that I like walking barefoot which I find pleasurable and at the same time this is my expression of my reverence for the path which I consider sacred ground. I also want to follow the example of the ancient pilgrims like St. Francis of Assisi.
Well, barefoot walking and running is, indeed, pleasurable as long as I am doing it on grass, packed earth, dirt and asphalt (when it is not yet hot). I can walk on gravel trail or road for two hours without complaining. But more than that plus the heat, then it becomes very painful, as if I am walking on broken shards of glass and hot coals. I didn’t realize that it was going to be this tough. When I did my long training runs barefoot in the mountains of Busay, it was usually 3 hours on asphalt, 1 hour on gravel, and 1 hour on soft earth and grass. But on the Camino, it is now mostly gravel and it hurts. I am tempted to give up – at least the barefoot aspect. I am not a superman. I am not St. Francis.
While walking, I prayed the rosary and meditated on the various mysteries of Christ’s incarnation, public ministry, death and glorification. I also tried to unravel the meaning of the dream I had last night. I seldom remember my dreams, except the recurring dreams with some slight variation. One of the intentions that I pray for during the Camino is to find out what God wants me to be in the future. I wonder if that dream is a precognitive dream and part of the answer. God forbid.
I reached Torres del Rio at 4 pm after covering 30 km. I proceeded to a small private hostel – Casa Mari. It is a very nice and comfortable pilgrim hostel. I went in to one of the dormitories with double-bunk beds. I recognized some of the pilgrims there whom I met yesterday in Estella. But they all vacated the dormitory and transferred to another dormitory when a Spanish couple arrived – Antonio and Feliz. Later, when I asked the others why they left the dormitory, they told me that Antonio’s loud snoring kept them awake last night in Estella and they wanted to have a good night’s sleep this time.
There’s no communal meal on this hostel, so each one went on their way to have dinner in a nearby restaurant. I just had a bocadillo for supper in the veranda.
July 20, 2010
I stayed up late last night, sitting in the veranda and gazing at the moon and the night-sky until midnight. I was filled with so much awe as I felt the intimate presence of Someone. My eyes were misty and tears flowed.
When I went back to the dormitory, Antonio was snoring loudly that it sounded like I was near the engine of a boat. His wife was blissfully asleep with her earplugs – after all these years of marriage I’m sure that she is used to his snoring. The other bunks were empty, with the other pilgrims sleeping blissfully in the other dormitory. It didn’t take me long to sleep and possibly snore – as loud as Antonio.
Early this morning, while it was still dark, I was already on the road. I wore my sandals during the first two hours but when I reached Viana, the path was soft earth and I immediately took off my sandals and walked barefoot. It didn’t last very long. After two hours, the road was once again rocky and I put on my sandals.
In Longrono, I met again Sonny – a guy from California whom I encountered yesterday in Los Arcos. He had invited me to walk with him as far as Viana but I told him that I was only walking as far as Torres del Rio. But today, we walked together up to Navarrete. Since I was walking with my sandals, I could keep up with his pace. We talked as we walked. I found out that he is a priest from California who is on sabbatical. I also told him that I am a priest on sabbatical. We shared about our experiences in the ministry and in the Camino. We reached Navarrete at 3 pm after covering 33 km and went to the same Albergue. After going to Mass, we had dinner together at a restaurant. This is the first time I have eaten in a restaurant in the Camino. We continued to share about our life and ministry. As we were finishing our dinner he told me that I would be a bishop someday. I was surprised by his remark and told him that the Vatican wouldn’t appoint someone like me (an ex-political prisoner, activist, etc.). I would have wanted to walk with him up to Santiago de Compostela but he is only walking as far as Najera tomorrow and he plans to do the entire Camino in 33 days. Anyway, I really appreciate the time we had together. It is seldom that I meet fellow pilgrim-priests on the Camino.
July 21, 2010
Since I couldn’t find a place to pitch my tent, I once again went to sleep in the dormitory last night. This time, the snoring of many pilgrims around me kept me awake. I decided to leave the dormitory and sleep in the corridor on my air-mattress. I finally doze to sleep. I woke up before 5 am and quietly left the Albergue to continue my journey while other pilgrims continued to sleep.
My feet didn’t hurt anymore and the road was inviting, so I walked barefoot up to eleven in the morning – six hours of barefoot walking! But by eleven, the road became hot and harsh so I immediately wore my sandals. Naturally, my pace increased and I began to run and walk fast. On the road, I caught up with Claire, David and his girlfriend Julie. Claire is a pretty young woman from Belgium, while David and Julie are from Canada. The three of them had been walking companions since the start of the Camino over a week ago. I slowed my pace and talked with them for a while. Afterwards, we parted company. Claire was going as far as Azofra for the night and David and his girlfriend were walking as far as Santo Domingo de Calzada. So I walked alone until I reached Ciruina, after covering 32 km. I proceeded to a small Albergue where 14 other pilgrims were staying.
When the hospitalero read my name on the credencial , he asked me if I wanted to say mass in the church. (The village doesn’t have a parish priest and the mass is only celebrated on Sundays by the parish priest of Sto. Domingo). I told him that I would like to if it is possible although I won’t be preaching in Spanish. So at 7 pm, I said mass with an oversize alb and vestment in an old Spanish church with a few pilgrims and the hospitalero in attendance. We had a communal meal afterwards. I was surprised to see Claire. She told me that she had already checked in at the Albergue in Azofra but when she inspected the bed, she saw bed-bugs. So she immediately left the Albergue and continued walking up to Ciruina.
Next to snoring, bed-bugs are the nemesis of pilgrims. They keep you awake. But the bed-bugs are more pernicious since they really bite you and you carry them wherever you go and until you reach home. So, Claire made the right decision, even if she had to walk another 10 km to the next village.
July 22, 2010
Once again, I was on the road at dawn with my headlamp showing me the way. When the sun came out I walked barefoot for awhile until my feet complained. I decided to give them a chance to rest and recover and wore my sandals for the rest of the day.
While passing through Santo Domingo de Calzada, I met Peter – a student from Ireland. He told me that he was studying theater-arts at a university in Dublin and decided to walk the Camino as part of his summer vacation. He didn’t regard himself as a pilgrim and has kept away from organized religion. We talked for a while and he asked me about meditation. I explained to him the various methods – including centering prayer. I told him that even walking can be meditative. As we were talking, I accidentally slipped from the sidewalk of the bridge and fell face-flat. I was able to break my fall but felt that my ankle was slightly sprained and my knees bruised. I told him that that’s what I get for failing to concentrate on my walking. I excused myself and walked ahead, this time focusing on my walking and the present moment. That’s what a “walking meditation” should be.
The sky darkened and it started to drizzle. Even with the pain, I walked and then ran. After a while the sky cleared and the sun came out. I continued walking on gravel path in the middle of corn-fields and finally on a green valley.
I reached Tosantos at 4 pm after covering 35 km. The hospitalero, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, immediately noticed the “padre” in my credencial. He asked me if I can celebrate the mass with pilgrims at 7 pm. I consented and I told him that I wouldn’t be preaching in Spanish. So at 6:30 pm, 16 pilgrims, mostly Polish, including Peter the Irishman went up the Ermita de Nuestra de la Pena – an ancient hermitage overlooking the village – and celebrated the Eucharist. The mass was in Spanish but I preached in English. Everyone received holy communion except Peter.
We had a communal dinner at the Albergue and Peter sat beside me. He told me that he had given up on religion because the Church is just concerned about holding on to power. I told him that he must have come to that conclusion based on his own limited experience or observation but it would be a sweeping generalization to say that. I shared with him my experience and observation of Irish missionaries in the Philippines who have left Ireland to be of service to Filipinos, the clergy who worked for justice, peace and to protect the environment, the Bishops and priests who have made a prophetic stance vis-à-vis the evils in society, and the lay people and small Christian communities who are actively involved in social transformation. This is how I, too, have lived my life as a priest. What motivates us is loving service to people and to God and not power. I told him that the Church is spread all over the world – not just in Europe and North America but also in Africa, Latin America and Asia where it is rapidly expanding. It is not all about power but service. I said: “your perception on Religion and the Church may not be same as the reality of the Church and Religion.” He agreed with me. So we left it at that and finished our meal. But afterwards, this thought crossed my mind: how sad and unfair it is for people like Peter to pass such sweeping negative judgment on religion and the Church. And to think that there are people in Europe, North America and elsewhere who share his prejudice. Sure, there are abuses committed by some leaders and members of the Church but it would be unfair to generalize it for the whole Church all over the world and for religion in general.
I was also thinking that this is one of the disadvantages when other pilgrims know that I am a priest. Those who have issues and prejudices against the Church would take these up with me. But it will also give me a chance to explain and provide a nuanced view.
After dinner, we all gathered in the chapel for evening prayer. We also read the prayers of petition that previous pilgrims wrote.
I miss sleeping on a tent. Tonight, I am going to sleep in a dormitory without beds and bunks - the mattresses are on the floor. I hope I won’t keep the other pilgrims awake with my snoring.
July 23, 2010
I woke up still feeling the soreness in my feet. Even the thought of walking barefoot seemed repugnant. So I wore my sandals and ran up and down the hills. After several hours, I felt some pain in my shin and ankle so I stopped running and walked slowly.
While walking I kept thinking about what Peter said last night about the Catholic Church being concerned only in preserving its power. What did he mean by power? How powerful really is the Church? Power is a word that is often used but not fully understood. It has taken on a negative connotation – something that is evil. It is often associated with politicians who seek and hold on to power and exercise it in an abusive manner (I can think of dictators like Marcos or Joseph Stalin). But I prefer to define power as simply the capacity or ability to do things or influence people and events – whether good or evil. Being powerless on the other hand is the inability to do anything. Spiderman, in the movie, says: with great power comes great responsibility. Having power can mean, having the ability to do good and influence others to do good – to protect life, to heal, to free or liberate others from whatever that enslaves them, to bring about justice and peace, to defend the environment, to alleviate poverty, etc. From this perspective, one can say that the institutional Church does have some power. It is not a question of having power but of how power is used or exercised. It has to be understood and exercised in the spirit of loving service.
Along the way I met Claire. The last time we saw each other was in Ciruina. We had a long chat as we ascended Villafranca Montes de Oca and descended to San Juan de Ortega. I asked her why she was doing the Camino. She told me that she wanted to have some time to think about her future. She has a good-paying job as a business analyst and yet she is not happy. She wants to do something that will be at the service of other people. But she doesn’t know what it is. I also shared with her my own dissatisfaction with my work as a full-time theology professor for the last 15 years. I told her that I don’t want to spend the remaining years of my life teaching in the classroom and far away from ordinary people. I also want to find out what kind of ministry God wants me to do in the coming years.
When we reached Ages, we stopped at the bar for café con leche. Claire sat outside and took off her shoes. She showed me the blisters in her foot and said that it was very painful. She decided to take a rest and maybe spend in the night in Ages or in the next town in Atapuerca. So we said goodbye and bumped each other’s knuckles. I had a feeling that that would be the last time we will see each other. I would have wanted to spend more time with her. Such is the Camino, such is life – you encounter people on the road, you become friends and companions, then you part ways and move on.
I reached Atapuerca by noon and I started to ascend towards the Matagrande. The path was rocky yet I felt the urge to walk barefoot. So I took off my sandals and felt the pain in my shin disappearing. I could bear the heat and the rocks. I reached the peak by 2 pm and descended towards Villalba. This time the path became too hot and harsh that I decided to wear my sandals again. The pain came back and I had to walk very slowly. I reached Cardenuela-Riopico by 4 pm after covering 33 km.
The municipal Albergue could accommodate 14 people and it was not full when I arrived. I recognized the Polish pilgrim Mariola and her husband Jan who was driving the support vehicle. I met Mariola on the second day of my pilgrimage and she told me that she was walking part of the Camino and would ride the support vehicle when she gets tired or had enough walking for the day. Another friend from Poland was also with them.
Well, there are various ways of doing the Camino. While, many walk all the way, others ride part of the way – and it wouldn’t be considered cheating. There are others who skip some stages especially when they get injured or are just too tired – they ride a bus to the next big city and rest – and then walk again. Others would even start nearer to Santiago – at least in Sarria, while others midway. Others do only part of the Camino and then come back the following year and continue where they left off.
There was no communal spirit in the Albergue in Cardenuela-Riopico. To each her/his own. So I just went down to the bar and had a bocadillo for dinner. The village church was closed – it only opens on Sundays – so no mass for me today.
July 24, 2010
The road to Burgos was along the asphalt high-way, which was suitable for barefoot walking especially in the morning. But it took me longer to cover the 13 km distance due to the pain in my shin. After over an hour, I was already within the city limits but the center was still 10 km away. I stopped by a bar for café con leche. It was a very cold morning – 16 degrees Celsius! With 4 km more to go before the center of the city, I stopped again at a bar and ordered café con leche and tortilla. I don’t normally take breakfast but today is an exception. Across the bar was a Chinese store and I waited until it opened at 9:30. Then I went in and bought an athletic wrap-around for my shin. The ones I bought from Madrid were not tight enough. This time the one I bought helped in lessening the pain in my shin.
I reached the magnificent gothic cathedral of Burgos by 11 am. I met a Polish pilgrim who was limping. He told me that he had an injury after descending fast from the Matagrande. He said he couldn’t bear the pain anymore and he was going home to Poland. He was sad to end his pilgrimage. I felt fortunate that even with the pain in my shin, I am still able to continue my journey.
So while most pilgrims were enjoying their lunch in Burgos and later went to the Albergues where they will stay for the night, I was on the road entering the hottest region of the Meseta – the central highlands of Spain which is flat like a table and stretches from Burgos to Leon. It usually takes more than a week to walk through this arid landscape, with mostly cornfields - without any forest paths or trees along the way, and few villages. It could be the most difficult and boring section of the Camino. Guidebooks often recommend no afternoon hikes. Some pilgrims skip this section and take the bus to Leon.
By 1 pm, the path was too harsh and hot that I had to wear my sandals and use my umbrella. It was too hot that even the bar of chocolate I bought earlier melted in my pocket. I was all alone most of the time, except three pilgrims who passed me later in the afternoon. While walking I prayed the rosary, meditating on the various mysteries. I reached Hornillos de Camino by 4 pm after covering 32 km.
In the Albergue I met again the Polish couple –Mariola and Jan – and their friend. There must have been over sixty pilgrims staying in the Albergue but most of them were strangers to me. Since there was no communal evening meal in the Albergue, I went to the restaurant nearby and ate alone. I enjoyed my meal of paella, chicken, bread, wine and flan.
Like yesterday, the church was also closed – the mass is only celebrated on Sundays by a visiting priest from a nearby parish. So, I couldn’t attend or celebrate mass again today. I’m beginning to wander what is happening to the Catholic Church in Spain. It seems to have lost its vitality, even in the small villages. Along the pilgrim route, one can’t even attend daily mass. There’s little or no ministry for the pilgrims. In those town or villages where there are masses, the liturgy lacks vitality, attendance and participation. The young people are absent. There’s even no choir and if there is singing, it is only the priest who sings. The magnificent cathedrals, like the one in Burgos, are like museums – places for sightseeing.
July 25, 2010
My feet felt fine when I woke up this morning so I decided to do some barefoot walking. The soft path and later the asphalt road to San Anton made it easy for me to walk and run barefoot. I met Mariola and Sven along the way. Sven is the German pilgrim that I met in Roncesvalles and who had asked me if I forgot to bring my shoes. We conversed for a while. Mariola, knowing I was a priest asked me to convince Sven to be baptized as a Catholic. (Sven had earlier told her that he was not a believer). I told her that it was not my mission on the Camino. She went ahead annoyed that I was not doing my duty. Sven and I continued to share about our life experiences and about faith. I told Sven that there was a period in my life – as a young student languishing in prison - when I doubted God’s existence. I said that it is natural to go through life with doubts but there will come a time when we become aware of the transcendent dimension of life and open up to God. There are a lot of people who begin walking the Camino as tourists or adventurers, but they end up as pilgrims. Sven told me that he likes talking with me about this subject unlike his conversation with Mariola – the devout Polish pilgrim. After a while, Sven went ahead since my pace was very slow.
As I ascended the Alto de Mostelares, I met a pilgrim named Bruna – a pretty 18 year-old student from Barcelona with a flute strapped on her backpack. It was already noontime and she was amazed that I was walking barefoot. She spoke English very well so I didn’t have to converse with her in Spanish. She told me that she was just starting her studies in physics. She said that she had some mystical experiences in the Camino and told me all about them. When we reached the peak, we stop for a while to rest. I gave her some of my chocolate which we ate while enjoying the view. Like me she didn’t have any lunch. The road got so hot and harsh as we descended the mountain, so I wore my sandals. She asked me if I had a wife and children. I told her that being a priest, I don’t have any family. As we walked, I realized that if I had a daughter, she would be Bruna’s age. As a celibate, one of the things I miss in life is not having a daughter.
We reached the Albergue in Itero del Castillo at 3 pm. This Albergue, which is just one kilometer before Itero de Vega, is ran by Italian volunteers known to conduct ritual washing of pilgrim’s feet at night after the communal evening meal. Bruna asked me if I was staying there for the night but I told her that since there was no church nearby where I could attend or celebrate mass I will have to proceed to the next village. Today is Sunday and the feast of Santiago de Compostela. I would have wanted to have more time with her.
I arrived in Itero de Vega at 4 pm and went to the Municipal Albergue which was in front of the church. When I inquired inside whether there was going to be mass there later in the afternoon, the lady in charge told me that a mass had already been celebrated at noon time and there was no more mass in the afternoon. I told her that I am priest and I wanted to celebrate mass in honor of St. James. She immediately consented and called the nearby pilgrim hostels and albergues that a mass was going to be celebrated at 6 pm. It turned out that the other pilgrims had not been able to attend mass and they came. Mariola, Jan and their friend were there. There was also a young Englishman – Ben – who attended. After the mass he approached me and told me that he was not a Catholic nor did he belong to any religion. But during communion, he just felt that he needed to receive holy communion. He asked me if it was wrong. I told him that as a rule, only Catholics are supposed to receive communion within the mass because it signifies union with Christ and his body – the Church. It would be a lie and meaningless if he received holy communion if he was not in communion with Christ and the Catholic Church. Eucharistic communion is the expression of full communion which is the aim of ecumenical dialogue. But I told him that he should not worry too much – I wouldn’t condemn him for doing so. He can regard it as an invitation to receive Christ and to be one with his Church. He smiled and told me that I make a good pastor. As he left, I kept wondering what is it about the Camino that attracts even the non-religious and non-Catholics.
Mariola, Jan and their friend waited for me and invited me for dinner. So we had fine Spanish dinner and conversation in a restaurant. I’m glad that I didn’t have to dine alone tonight. But I am going to sleep alone here in the Municipal Albergue because there’s no one else sleeping here. The other pilgrims are staying in two other Albergues which they saw first upon entering the village. They didn’t know about this Albergue in front of the church. Well, I have the place to myself. I wouldn’t be kept awake by the snoring of other pilgrims nor would I keep them awake with my snoring. No need to sleep in my tent.
July 26, 2010
I woke up feeling the pain in my shin and ankle. As I was walking I noticed that the pain lessened when I took off my sandals and walked barefoot which I did from six in the morning up to noon-time. My pace was very slow due to the gravel path – 3 km per hour – and many pilgrims passed me. Walking barefoot forced me to slow down and focus my attention on the act of walking – one step at a time. It made me aware of the present moment – me walking gracefully, my breathing, the road in front of me and the surrounding environment. It gave me a sense of stillness and of peace. This is what eastern mystics call the Zen of walking. But it had to end by noon in the middle of the Meseta when I could no longer bear the heat of the road and the sharpness of the crushed gravel.
So I continued walking in the afternoon with my feet protected from the heat and sharp rocks. My pace increased and walking became automatic (autopilot mode). I didn’t have to focus on my walking - my mind could wander and think of other things. My mind was no longer in the present but in the past – remembering my childhood years up to the time when I entered the seminary as an adolescent. I didn’t mind anymore the heat, the loneliness and the boredom of the Meseta. Time passed by so quickly as I went deeper into my memory bank.
I reached Carrion de los Condes at 6:00 pm after covering 34 km. I proceeded to the parish Albergue which was ran by the young, lovely and lively Augustinian sisters. At 7 pm they gathered the pilgrims (over 30 of us) at the hall for a welcome and singing session. After introducing ourselves, the sisters with their guitar and drums asked us to join them in the singing. Later, we were asked to share our own native songs. One of the sisters ask me to sing, which I obliged by singing my composition about the Small Christian Communities (in Cebuano) while accompanying myself with the guitar. At 8 pm we went to the church for the evening mass where I concelebrated. This was followed by the communal dinner. I recognized some of the pilgrims whom I met before. There was Lisa, the Austrian pilgrim whom I met on the first day. I was surprised that she was able to catch up with me. She said that she skipped one of the stages and took a bus. I also recognized Sven, Ben and the Italian pilgrims I met in Zariquiegui. Seeing them again made me feel like I was seeing old friends. Most of them just found out that I am a priest. We had lively conversation as we shared our pasta, salad, salami and wine.
Later in the evening, a priest in black habit arrived. I thought he must belong to the Opus Dei. He was all by himself and he didn’t make any friends. I wondered if his black habit which announced his priestly status inhibited other pilgrims from approaching him.
July 27, 2010
I started walking barefoot at six this morning. At first it was easy because I was walking on an asphalt road but once I reached an old Roman road which was recently paved with fresh gravel, walking became agonizing. I was passed by many pilgrims, including Lisa. I also watched the priest in black habit passed by at great speed. I was able to bear the harsh road for another two hours until my feet became sore. I looked ahead of me and all I could see was an endless gravel road which was become hotter. I gave up and put on my sandals.
Once again my walking was on an auto-pilot mode and my mind was no longer in the present but was journeying again through the past. This time my mind went back to my college years, my activism period and prison experience, my ordination and early years as a missionary, my studies in Berkeley and Rome. I was reminded of my sinfulness and the sense of guilt that I have been carrying with me – especially what happened while I was being tortured in prison and in later years. (I especially remembered the incident when I gave my interrogators the name of a young student activist who belonged to another group just to mislead them and protect my own comrades. When they picked her up and tortured her – I heard her cry and scream and I was stricken with horror and sorrow that I recanted my false testimony. Although she had forgiven me several years later in a note after asking her forgiveness in a letter, I was still carrying that guilt and felt that I had not sufficiently atoned for what I have done. I have not even confessed that to a priest). So, I was being reminded of the dark side of myself.
Past pilgrims have often commented that the Meseta can be the most boring stage due to the arid landscape – but it can also be the time when one is forced to look inward, to the past and the present. There will be a lot of uncanny and strange happenings in the Meseta.
So there I was, in the middle of the Meseta, all by myself, feeling the need to make a general confession during this pilgrimage. Most of the pilgrims have gone ahead of me, except one. He was sitting on the side of the road resting and as I was about to pass him I stopped and asked in Spanish whether he is a Spaniard. He told me that he is Irish. I told him that I know a lot of Irish missionaries in the Philippines and he said that he is a priest. So I also revealed to him that I am a priest. He suddenly asked me if I could hear his confession. So I sat beside him and after hearing his confession I told him that it was now the time for him to hear my confession. So we gave each other an absolution, telling each other that walking the Camino was enough penance. He gave me an orange fruit and we parted company. He said his name was Peter. So I have met two Irish Peters – Peter the anti-Church/religion and Peter the priest. The other Peter helped me clarify what ministry is all about – a ministry of service not power. This Peter enabled me to unburden my guilt and experience God’s forgiveness.
So, this proves what previous pilgrims often say: “The Camino will give you what you need.” Or I would say: “God will give you what you need in your journey.”
I reached Terradillos at 3 pm and stopped by a bar near the Albergue for diet coke and bocadillo. I saw Lisa and we talked for a while. Then I continued to the next village. I wished to have more time talking with her. I enjoy her company, but I have to move on.
I reached Moratino at 5 pm after covering 29 km and proceeded to the home of Rebekah and Patrick which is called “The Peaceable Kingdom.” It’s not really an Albergue but they welcome pilgrims, especially members of the Camino Internet Forum who inform them beforehand. It is such a peaceful place. I was warmly welcomed by Rebekah and Peter and their lovable dogs. They have two guests – one of them Kim who had been staying for quite some time helping renovate the place. The other an Irish pilgrim who had been suffering from blisters. They prepared a special dinner for me. After washing the dishes with Kim, I had a chat with Rebekah and later she asked me if I could hear her confession. Rebekah is one of those who made the Camino years ago and afterwards gave up her job as a journalist in the US to live in the Camino.
So far, I have covered almost 400 km. I am now half-way to Santiago de Compostela. I have two more weeks to go finishing my journey.
July 28, 2010
After a very comfortable sleep in a room all to myself, I left the “Peaceable Kingdom” at dawn. My feet felt good so I walked barefoot. My pace was very slow that I was passed again by many pilgrims including Lisa. The priest with black habit also passed me and he was reading his breviary while walking fast. I’m glad he didn’t stumble. Upon reaching Sahagun, a handsome pilgrim asked me if he could take my picture – he said that this was the first time that he had seen a barefoot pilgrim. So I obliged.
The Camino path after Sahagun was strewn with small sharp rocks, so I was walking very slowly. Then the handsome pilgrim caught up with me and slowed down. He introduced himself as Brendan, an American living in Panama. He said that he had done the Camino before but he couldn’t finish due to an injury and now he came back to finish the Camino. Later he told me that he is gay and HIV positive. He was aware that he could die soon. We talked about life and death and about faith in the Divine. I told him that God is more forgiving and compassionate than human beings. He said that when he started the Camino a few years ago, his motivation was to seek God’s pardon. He had heard from a friend that one’s sins could be forgiven after finishing the Camino.I didn’t give him a lot of advice, it was enough that there was someone who listened to him on the Camino – and he didn’t even know he was talking to a priest. After over two hours of walking together he went ahead and I continued to reflect on my past and my journey through life. By eleven in the morning, I could no longer bear the gravel path and the heat so I put on my sandals. The hottest time in the Meseta was between 1 to 4 pm, so I had to use my umbrella. I reached the Albergue in in Burgo de Ranero at 4 pm after covering 27 km. I recognized some of the pilgrims including Lisa, Brendan, Ben, and Sven. The hospitalera who scrutinized my credencial before stamping it asked me if I wanted to celebrate mass in the church. I gladly consented. So at 7 pm I said mass in Spanish with some pilgrims in attendance including the hospitaleras. After the mass, I went to a restaurant and had dinner all by myself. (The Albergue did not have a communal evening meal for pilgrims). While finishing my meal, the hospitalera approached me as asked if I was willing to hear the confession of one of the pilgrims who was looking for a priest. I told her that I would gladly do that. So after dinner, a young Spanish pilgrim sat beside me outside the Albergue and made his confession. He hadn’t been to confession in a long, long time and felt the need to confess his sins and receive absolution during his pilgrimage. It made me wonder, how come very few young Spaniards go to church in Spain and yet many of them make the pilgrimage on the Camino.
July 29, 2010
My feet still felt sore when I woke up so I decided to give them a rest by wearing sandals the whole day. While walking, a tune and some phrases about the pilgrimage entered my mind. I began to sing, working out the lyrics as I went along. After nine hours and 37 km of walking and composing, I reached Leon and the Camino Pilgrim song was born:
Camino Pilgrim Song
Music & Lyrics: Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR
We are pilgrims on a journey
across the mountains and plains of Spain
we're on our way to Santiago
to the field of stars.
Ultreya, onward must we go
Ultreya, to the tomb of Santiago
We are hiking across the Pyrenees
the meseta and Galicia
we don't mind the cold and the heat
the blisters and the muscle pain.
Ultreya, onward must we go.
Ultreya, to the city of Santiago.
Do we make our own Camino
we are never all alone
We meet friends and companions
on the road and the albergues.
Ultreya, onward must we go.
Ultreya, to the field of stars.
We are pilgrims on a journey
within our mind, heart and soul.
And we grow in the Spirit
in faith, hope and love.
Ultreya, onward must we go.
Ultreya, to our final destiny
We are pilgrims on a journey
from darkness to light
to the kingdom of justice,
and peace and of freedom.
Ultreya, onward must we go.
Ultreya, to our final destiny.
We are pilgrims on a journey
to our final destiny.
To the home of our Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Ultreya, onward must we go.
Ultreya, to our finaly destiny.
I was surprised that I could compose a song that quickly without even using the piano or the guitar, and without pen and paper.
I proceeded to the big Albergue in Leon which can accommodate 180 pilgrims. Most of the pilgrims were strangers to me except Lisa. I also met Marco – an Italian pilgrim whom I met in Zariquiegui. His legs were bandaged. He said that he has tendonitis and took the bus up to Leon. He is waiting for his other friends who will be arriving the following days.
As I went around the city for sight-seeing, I met Simona and Ilaria – the young pretty Italian pilgrims I met in Zariquiegui on the third day of my pilgrimage. They were full of smile and waved at me. I also saw Lisa, walking around barefoot, who also waved at me. Now, I have a disciple – although it’s only around the city. I hope she’ll do it on the Camino.
Since there was no communal evening meal in the Albergue, I went looking for a restaurant for another dinner by myself. I passed a restaurant with four pilgrims sitting in a table outside. When they saw me they asked if I wanted to join them. I accepted their invitation. The couple who invited me was Ed and Leticia from California. With them were two others from Germany and Austria. During dinner we shared about our experiences on the Camino – especially the funny ones and the uncanny ones. I also shared with them the song that I had just composed. After dinner, we went back to the Albergue and joined the vespers of the Benedictine nuns with other pilgrims.
As I was sitting down in the lobby drinking café con leche after vespers, a young Spanish woman approached me and asked if I could hear her confession. Of course, I said yes. I wonder how she knew that I am a priest. Well, word can quickly get around in the Camino that the barefoot Filipino pilgrim among them is a priest. There’s no way I can hide my identity as a priest. And while in the Camino, I still do my ministry among the pilgrims. This wasn’t my intention but it’s happening. Unfortunately, very few priests make the pilgrimage and ministry among pilgrims is not given much importance. And to think that this is the point of contact between the church and young people who long for something more in life and for an experience of the Divine.
July 30, 2010
My feet have sufficiently recovered this morning that I started walking barefoot at dawn. Since the Camino path was parallel to the highway, I decided to walk on the highway which was easier since it was asphalt. I sang the song that I have just composed while walking. By, eleven in the morning, after 5 hours of barefoot walking, the road became very hot so I put on my sandals. An hour later, I stopped in a bar and ordered a bocadillo and café con leche. After a very long noon-break I continued walking under the intense afternoon heat until I reached San Martin del Camino at 3:30 pm after covering 27 km.
There are three competing Albergues in the village and I chose the second one – a nice private hostel. When I arrived the dormitory was not yet full. The bunk beside me and above me were empty. After an hour, two young women arrived and occupied the empty bunks beside my bed and above me. When I saw them, I was filled with awe. If a beauty contest were to be held in the Camino and I was the judge – I would declare the one occupying the bunk above me as Miss Camino and her companion as runner-up. After taking their shower they just wore sports-bra and skimpy shorts showing a lot of skin bronzed by the sun. It was difficult to keep my eyes off them. I didn’t get the chance to get to know them because I was too bashful to start a conversation. I was just contented to admire and contemplate their beauty from a safe distance. By then I was thinking about what would happen tonight, with a beautiful woman beside me (or beside my bunk) and another one on top of me (oops, above my bunk). I am not used to this situation. I thought, I was facing a dilemma. Two things could happen. a) I will have a sleepless night fantasizing about them – and I will get mad at them in the morning for keeping me awake, or b) They will have a sleepless night because of my snoring – they will get mad at me in the morning for keeping them awake. What shall I do? Other guys would feel lucky. I finally thought of what I have always been doing in the Camino when there is a lawn in the Albergue – sleep under the stars. I’m not afraid of beautiful and sexy women, I just want them and me to have a good night’s sleep.
By 7 pm, I went to the restaurant and dined alone. After dinner, while pitching my tent, several pilgrims who were eating at the lawn invited me for dinner. I declined since I was already full. But when they offered a glass of wine, I joined them. I sat beside Bruni – a Spanish woman in her 30s and a Korean pilgrim. When they asked me why I was sleeping in the tent, I told them that I like doing it and I also didn’t want to keep the other pilgrims awake with my snoring. I didn’t tell them the other reason.
As a celibate priest, I am used to sleeping alone in my room. I am not used to have other people –especially young beautiful women sleeping within arm’s reach. This is one of the pleasures in life that I never had and will never have. I wonder what it’s like. No fantasies, please. I hope I will have a good night’s sleep tonight.
July 31, 2010
After a very good night’s sleep I was on way before dawn. My feet were still sore so I used my sandals. I was singing in the dark, with my headlight showing me the way. As I crossed a foot-bridge, I slipped and fell face-flat. My ankles were painful but I continued on.
As the sun came out I noticed that the landscape was changing. I was leaving behind the arid plains of the Meseta and I was now walking up and down green hills. There were now a lot of trees along the way.
After 23 km of walking, I arrived in Astorga just before lunch. I immediately went to the Redemptorist monastery which was along the Camino. I introduced myself to the rector of the community who was expecting me. Fr. Alberto de Mingo had called from Madrid telling him about my arrival. After washing up in the room that was given to me, I met the other members of the community during lunch.
After taking my siesta, I went around Astorga and met Bruni, who was staying at the Albergue nearby. I also met Mariola and Jan who were glad to see me. While strolling in the main plaza, I met Lisa who was walking barefoot around the town. She waved and smiled upon seeing me. I complimented her for being barefoot. I really wanted to talk to her but I was going to a nearby parish church to hear mass.
After the mass, I went back to the monastery and had supper and drinks with the Redemptorist community. It so happens that tomorrow is the feast of our founder, St. Alphonsus, and we are celebrating in advance tonight.
August 1, 2010
It was very noisy last night outside the monastery. There were some drunk Spaniards shouting and laughing. It was very difficult to sleep with the noise and I didn’t close my window due to the summer heat. By 5:15 am I left the monastery. I was careful not to step on broken bottles.
I wore my sandals until I reached Rabanal del Camino. By then I was ascending the Montes de Leon and the path was soft which made barefoot walking very pleasurable. When I reached Foncebadon I was ready with my walking staff just in case I encountered the fierce dogs that were reported to attack passing pilgrims (the so-called Dogs of Foncebadon). All I saw was one skinny dog who ignored me.
Due to my slow pace, many pilgrims passed me. Among them were Bruni and then the two beautiful women that I encountered in the Albergue in San Martin del Camino (whom I call Miss Camino and the runner-up). I was enthralled, seeing Miss Camino climb the mountain with grace. She is indeed an enchanting beauty whose image I cannot get out of my mind.
By noontime, I was ascending the peak where the Cruz de Ferro was located. The path was very rocky and hot but I continued to walk barefoot. I then placed the stone which I brought from Davao on the foot of the cross. For centuries, pilgrims have been leaving behind a stone or rock that they brought from their place of origin. This is the prayer of the Cruz de Ferro:
“Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the cross of the Savior, weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds some day when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so.”
The pilgrim from Slovenia left behind a very big rock. He told me it weighed one kilo and it symbolized his sins. Besides the stones, I saw other objects that were left behind by previous pilgrims: flags, pictures, cigarette pack and even a cell-phone. I was thinking that the pilgrim who left behind the cigarette pack probably promised to quit smoking. What about the pilgrim who left her/his cell-phone behind? A cell-phone addict?
The path down to Manjarin became too hot so I wore my sandals. The hostel of Manjarin is along the road and adorned with flags from various nations and road signs/directions (Santiago: 222 km, Jerusalem: 5000 km, Rome; 2475 km). I didn’t see Tomas - the famous modern-day Knight Templar who runs the Albergue. I continued my descent on a steep and stony path until I reached El Acebo by 4 pm having covered 37 km. The dormitory was almost full. I saw the enchanting beauty and her friend on a bunk far from my own. So, no need to sleep under the stars. Besides, there’s no lawn nearby where I can pitch my tent.
After having a shower, I went to a nearby bar and ordered spaghetti. I was famished since I didn’t have breakfast and lunch – as usual. Outside the bar I met a pilgrim from California who I saw in Roncesvalles and who passed me on the second day of my pilgrimage. I remember his friends shaking my hand and taking a picture of me barefoot. He asked how I have been and I told him that I’ve been able to walk barefoot most of the time but that I wore my sandals when my feet were sore or when the road got hot or harsh. He told me: “It’s not about the pain. What’s matter most is the spirituality behind the barefoot walking. If you force yourself to walk barefoot all the time and ignore the pain, you can damage your feet permanently.” Of course, I fully agreed with him.
One can regard barefoot pilgrimage as primarily a penitential act or sacrifice – like the penitents who, on Good Friday in the Philippines, whip themselves until their backs are covered with their own blood. If this is how I see my barefoot pilgrimage, I can go on walking even if my feet are covered with blood and blisters. It would be like inflicting pain on myself in order to receive God’s forgiveness or to get God’s favor.
What is the alternative view – the spirituality of barefoot walking? To regard it as an expression of my deep reverence for the sacred path: “Take off your sandals, for the ground you are walking is holy ground.” This is what Moses heard in Mt. Sinai as he saw the burning bush. When I walk barefoot, I slow down and become aware of the present moment and my environment. Walking becomes prayerful and meditative. I feel my connectedness with the earth – with creation – and with the Creator, and with the pilgrims who have walked this path for many centuries. I do this with an awareness of my personal limitations and the limitations imposed by the weather (the heat) and the condition of the road (sharp rocks). I cannot be fanatical about barefoot walking. I will walk barefoot for as long as I am able and give my feet a chance to rest and recover when they start to complain. I do not have feet of steel. So every time I wear my sandals, I recognize my limits and I do not feel that I am cheating. I never intended or promised to walk the whole way barefoot – no matter what happens- only most of the way. To do so would be foolish and I won’t be able to reach my destination – especially if I damage my feet.
I met Bruni outside the Albergue. She was planning to stay overnight in Manjarin but decided to proceed to El Acebo. Like old friends, we sat on the side of the road and shared about our life and our experiences in the Camino. She has been working with an NGO in Africa for a long time and during this pilgrimage she is trying to decide what next: whether to continue what she has been doing or do something else.
At 7 pm we went to the kitchen to help prepare the communal evening meal. Bruni help in cooking the pasta, I helped in slicing the bread. By 8 pm, most of the pilgrims had a good meal and conversation.
August 2, 2010
I ran in the dark with my sandals from five in the morning up to six thirty. It was mostly downhill on asphalt road. As soon the sun came out I was walking barefoot on the Camino trail. The path was rocky as I descended to Molinaseco, so I had to slow down. Since the trail was narrow, I had to step aside to allow the pilgrims to go ahead - greeting them Buen Camino and motioning them to pass. I was passed by many pilgrims, including Bruni and the enchanting Miss Camino and her companion who gave me a beautiful smile. I was telling myself: “Oh God, how beautiful she is!”
Once I reached Molinaseco, I was running barefoot on asphalt path. This time I was passing many pilgrims until I reached Ponferrada. Along the way, I saw Miss Camino and her friend sitting on bar, drinking café con leche smiling at me and waving her hand. I smiled back and continued running, wondering if I would see her again. It wasn’t easy getting her image out of my mind.
As I was on my way out of the big city of Ponferrada at noontime, the asphalt road became so hot so I had to wear my sandals. While walking under the afternoon heat, I spent my time in reflection.
My thoughts dwelt on my attraction to the young pretty women that I met in the Camino – Lisa, Claire, Bruna, Bruni and especially the nameless enchanting beauty – Miss Camino. I also recalled the other women I encountered in my life’s journey. All them reminded me of a deep need and longing – for an intimate, exclusive loving relationship with a woman who is beautiful, compassionate, gentle, intelligent, courageous, religious, and athletic – not necessarily in that order. Although I’ve been close and at times have romantic feelings with some women throughout my life – I have never experienced really loving and being loved deeply by another woman. I have never experienced what it means to wake up at night or early in the morning with the woman I love in my arms. I have never been in bed nor embraced and kissed a woman in my life. I am a 55 year-old virgin. The enchanting Miss Camino and other women that I met in the Albergue and on trail represent what is lacking in my life.
As I continued walking I silently addressed God: “You know how difficult it is for me to go through life without an intimate love of a woman – a wife, a lifetime companion and closest friend. You know how difficult it is me to have no daughter or son that I care for. I have given this up for You as the ultimate expression of my total dedication to You and my ministry. And I affirm my celibate commitment. I don’t regret choosing this life, I don’t wish for any kind of life.”
Like in the Camino, I will always meet women, including attractive ones, in my journey through life. I will not avoid them, I will engage in dialogue with them, they will become friends and companions, and co-workers. I will always observe boundaries and will never exploit or abuse them. I will always appreciate and admire beautiful women when I encounter them without having the desire to possess them. I will always maintain a safe distance.
I arrived in Cacabelos at 4 pm after walking 32 km. I met Bruni in the Albergue and had some conversation with her. After taking my shower and washing my clothes, I went out to explore the village and had dinner in a restaurant – alone. I miss the communal dinner.
August 3, 2010
My feet were sore when I woke up this morning so I decided to give them rest and wear my sandals the whole day. It was dark, cold and windy when I started walking. It continued to be cool even when the sun came out until mid-day. With my sandals I could walk fast (auto-pilot mode) and at the same time do a lot of reflection without focusing my attention on my walking or the present moment.
So, I once again reviewed my whole life, especially since my ordination up to the present and looked for patterns and synchronistic events. I also reviewed what has happened in the Camino looking for signs about what God wants me to be and to do in the coming years. I thought about the future – my destiny.
Then, I heard a voice deep within me saying: You will not spend the rest of your life teaching in the classroom. You will have a heavier responsibility. The opportune time to fulfill your life’s destiny is coming – it is almost here. Everything that has happened so far, including the Camino, is a preparation for this role. I have to make sure that when you exercise this responsibility you will not be driven by the lust for power, privilege, possession, pleasure and prestige. I have to make sure that you will not abuse your position. I want to make sure that you will live a simple-lifestyle, and will always be a humble and compassionate servant and shepherd. I don’t want you to be like the others.
I am not sure whether it was really God’s voice, or just my own inner voice. But the message resonated in my heart.
By noon-time it was already very hot. I was ascending a steep mountain, through a forest path. I felt energized that I ran, passing many pilgrims who appeared exhausted. Many stopped in Faba where they plan to spend the night. I continued on and reached O’Cebreiro, the first village in the Galician region. It was 4 pm and I have covered 37 km. By then, the Albergue which could accommodate 80 pilgrims was full. I wasn’t surprised. This is the starting-point for many pilgrims who only have one-week to spare. It is only 160 km to Santiago from here.
I went to the ancient church of O’Cebreiro and spent 3 hours praying and meditating, waiting for the Mass to start. I remembered that this is where Paulo Coelho (the author of The Pilgrimage) ended his walking pilgrimage and took the bus to Santiago de Compostela. By then, he had accomplished what he came for – he had finally found the sword after realizing what it was for - the symbol of power that is to be used not for oneself but for the service of others. By then he was worthy to keep and wield the sword.
After the Mass, I had dinner by myself in a nearby restaurant and then pitched my tent at the church grounds near the ancient cemetery. There were also other pilgrims – mostly young men and also bikers – who had the same idea.
August 4, 2010
I didn’t have a good sleep last night. The wind was howling and it was very cold inside my tent, even if I was bundled up, with four layers of clothing – my 2 shirts, sweater and jacket – and my sleeping bag. The bikers who had taken refuge at the entrance of the church were still talking and laughing. Finally, I dozed off and awakened a couple of hours later by my cell-phone alarm.
After drinking café con leche at a bar that opened early, I started walking barefoot on a dark forest path with my headlight showing me the way. As the sun came out, many pilgrims passed me. After a while I was walking on a gravel path which was alongside an asphalt highway. I started running on the asphalt highway and passed many pilgrims. A German pilgrim who recognized me greeted me as “professor” and took my picture. The ascent to Alto de Poio was steep, but the path was soft, so I continued running and passing more pilgrims. It was literally a runner’s high as I reached the peak and made my descent. It didn’t last. The path became harsh as I stepped on small sharp rocks and gravel. I was reduced to a very slow walk and many pilgrims passed me. I continued walking barefoot even in the afternoon. I didn’t feel the need to wear my sandals since the trees along the way kept the path cool. I reached Triacastela at 3 pm after covering 22 km. The albergue was full so I couldn’t get any bunk. But there was a space outside where I can pitch my tent.
I attended the Mass for Pilgrims at 7 pm. The church was full and I sat at the front pew – I didn’t have any intention to concelebrate. Two priests, who had started their pilgrimage this morning in O’Cebreiro, were concelebrating (one from Italy and the other from Spain). The parish priest was very welcoming. He started his homily by asking: “Are you tourists or pilgrims?” He reminded us that we were not just going on an adventure or sight-seeing - like tourists. This is a spiritual journey. At the end of the mass the pilgrim’s blessing was read in various languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English). Before the start of the Mass, I had been asked to read the English version. So I walked barefoot to the sanctuary and read the blessing.
After the Mass, I went to a restaurant for dinner – alone. Afterwards, I met a very friendly Spanish couple who had just started their pilgrimage – Lola and Luis. They have already done the Camino before and was doing it again. We talked about the two routes to Sarria tomorrow. They told me that the right is shorter by 5 km but it would be more difficult because of a lot of hill-climbing on gravel path. The left, which would pass the ancient monastery of Samos, would be longer but the path was mostly downhill and ran parallel to the asphalt highway. They told me it would be easier for barefoot walking. I thanked them for the advice.
Since the start of my pilgrimage I have encountered several couples, like Luis and Lola, who were hiking the Camino. The last one I befriended was Ed and Leticia whom I met in Leon. What I found most touching was seeing couples holding hands while walking on the Camino. (This reminds me of the opening lines of a love song often sang during weddings: Walk hand in hand with me, throughout eternity). I think this intimate gesture would symbolize what their marriage is all about – a journey through life together. Walking the Camino together celebrates and deepens the marriage bond. As I walk without a partner or companion on the Camino I sometimes feel envious whenever I see couples walking together. But I am happy for them.
I also remember couples who did not walk together. There was the Polish pilgrim Mariola who was hiking and her husband Jan who was driving the support vehicle. There was also Antonio who was walking slowly, dragging his backpack on a carriage, while his wife Feliz was far ahead walking very fast. Does this also symbolize their marriage?
At 9 pm, I came back to the Albergue and pitched my tent on the field. There are other tents that have sprouted nearby. As I draw nearer to Santiago de Compostela it is getting more difficult to find accommodation in the Albergues. I am lucky that I brought my tent with me – I can sleep under the stars and enjoy my privacy.
August 5, 2010
At six in the morning, I started running barefoot along the asphalt highway taking the longer route through Samos. I was singing the “Camino Pilgrim Song” all the time. Along the way I passed the Italian pilgrim priest who was walking very fast. I reached the beautiful ancient monastery of Samos by 9 am and rested for a while at a bar drinking café con leche. After 30 minutes break, I continued my barefoot trek – this time just walking. It was almost noontime when I reached Sarria and by then the asphalt road became too hot to walk on barefoot. So I wore my sandals.
As I passed the middle of the town, I saw Bruni outside the bar. She waved at me and then ran towards me – she appeared happy to see me and she invited me to join her and three other young pilgrims who were sitting around a table outside the bar. They were eating, so I also ordered a bocadillo. They were wondering if they could find accommodation in Sarria since the number of pilgrims has increased. Sarria, which is 115 km to Santiago is the last starting point for walking pilgrims who are entitled to a pilgrim’s certificate when they arrived in Santiago.
After finishing my sandwich, I told them I was going ahead, so I left them at 1 pm and continued my journey. I went through forest paths and trails. The rolling green landscape and old villages and houses made of stone reminded me of Ireland. At times, it was difficult to find the yellow arrow that pointed the right direction. Along the way, I saw Lola and Luis who had stopped at the Albergue in Barbadello. After talking with them for a while I continued my journey. I finally reached Ferreiros at 4 pm after covering 34 km. By then the municipal Albergue was full and a pilgrim told me that there was another hostel nearby. The hostel was also full but there was a space outside for a tent. So, another night under the stars.
August 6, 2010
While sleeping in my tent last night, I felt hands trying to hold me and embrace me. I was terrified but I couldn’t move. I cried out. Then, I woke up and realized it was just a dream – a nightmare. But it seemed so real. I went back to sleep.
When I woke up, my feet were sore after the barefoot run/walk yesterday and the other day. Besides, my shin was becoming painful again. So I decided to wear my sandals and give my feet a break. I reached Ligonde at 1 pm after covering 27 km. I was planning to go ahead but I saw Ben, the English pilgrim I met last week. He told me that the Albergue, which was being ran by an evangelical Christian group, has a communal atmosphere. So I lined up and was able to get a space for sleeping. Later, Massimo- a young Italian pilgrim I met in Zariquiegui – arrived and we greeted each other like old friends.
I got to know three very friendly young Spanish pilgrims – Edgar, Miguel and Carlo. Edgar and Carlo were limping. Edgar had a sprained ankle while Carlo had a shin splint. I offered to help them relieve of their pain and they eagerly consented. I placed my hand on Edgar’s ankle and prayed over it. After ten minutes I asked him to stand up and walk – the pain was gone and he could walk properly. I also did the same on Carlo’s shin. After ten minutes the pain was also gone. They were surprised. I asked them what they felt while I was praying over them. Both said that first they felt a cold current flowing from my hands to their ankle and shin and then it became warm. Later, Massimo also asked me to pray over his shin and he felt being massaged by a warm current even if I was not touching him.
This was the first time that I did some healing in the Camino. I expected that the Camino, being a sacred path, has very strong healing energy. But I didn’t expect that I could get quick, instant healing. But I am still wondering why I could heal others but I couldn’t heal myself.
After the communal evening meal, the pilgrims were invited to gather at a large tent in a field outside the Albergue for a prayer service and sharing of our stories and experiences in the Camino. I shared with them the song that I composed and taught them the refrain. So they enjoyed singing with me the refrain of the song, while I sang solo the verses.
After the sharing session, some of the pilgrims told me that they recorded with their cellphones the song that I sang. They said that they will be listening and singing the Camino Pilgrim song as they continue their journey tomorrow.
August 7, 2010
Today was another day of barefoot walking on beautiful forest path. My shin splint continued to bother me that I had to walk very slowly. Many pilgrims passed me – and I could hear some of them singing the refrain of my song (Ultreya, onward must we go, to our final destiny) as they neared me. I was planning to walk only 20 km today, as far as Leiborero. But when I reached the village at noontime, I found out that the Albergue had been closed. So I had to walk another 7 km! The path I was walking on was asphalt and by 1 pm it was scalding hot, so I decided to wear my sandals the rest of the afternoon.
I reached the big town of Melide at 3:30 pm, after covering 27 km. The Albergue was already full but I was directed to the Poli-Sport center, the town’s provisional albergue for pilgrims. There must be over 200 pilgrims here – many of them scouts. I was able to get a bunk bed.
After taking a shower, I went around the town. I had a dinner of “pulpo” – octopus – all by myself.
August 8, 2010
For the first time, I started late this morning. Due to my ankle pain and shin splint, I was planning to walk only 15 km today – as far as Arzua. So, at 6:45 am, I started barefoot walking, along asphalt path and then through beautiful forest. The forest path was soft earth with very little gravel. It was pleasant to walk on, yet it was also agonizing as my shin became more painful. At noontime, I reached Rebadiso de Baixo after covering 12 km. I had 3 km more to go before Arzua, but by then it was just too painful to continue walking so I decided to stop in Rebadiso.
As I was lining up to have my credencial stamped and get a space for sleeping, Ed and Leticia arrived together with two other walking companions – Angela and David. They were planning to stop in the next town but when they saw me, they decided to stop also in Rebadiso. We felt like long-lost friends. Over dinner, we shared our stories and experiences in the Camino. I was glad that I was not eating alone tonight.
August 9, 2010
At 4 am, I was already on the road continuing my barefoot journey. The path to Arzua was along the asphalt highway. At 7 am, I stopped at a bar along the way for a cup of café con leche. I met the Italian pilgrim priest – Dom Alessandro. We talked for a while. I told him that I, too, am a priest. We agreed to see each other in Santiago and concelebrate at the noon-time pilgrim’s mass tomorrow. He went ahead of me and I continued my slow, agonizing walk, this time along the beautiful Eucalyptus forest path. I focused on each step and on the surrounding environment.
Hundreds of pilgrims were passing me. Some stopped to greet me, shake my hand and have a picture with me. A Spanish family of mother, father and 4 children slowed down and asked to pray with me for a while – and they picked up their pace and they were gone. A young Spanish couple pushing a stroller with their two year old daughter also slowed down and greeted me – they gave me something to drink. Ed and Leticia together with Angela and David also passed me. I told them we will see each other in Santiago tomorrow. Lisa, also passed me – giving me that smile that made her look like the beautiful actress, Julia Roberts. Mark, a Filipino pilgrim based in San Francisco, California, also passed me and told that he had been hearing about me the past few days. Some even asked him why he wasn’t barefoot like me. He went ahead with his walking companions after we agreed to meet in Santiago.
After a while nobody passed me anymore and I was all alone. The pain became so unbearable that I stopped to rest and cried out to God to relieve me of the pain. In the middle of the forest, all alone by myself, as I prayed for healing, a cold energy flowed through my legs and the pain suddenly disappeared. I heard a silent voice within my mind, chiding me: “Do you still doubt?” I sensed the intimate presence of Someone, whose presence I have always longed to feel. Tears flowed on my cheeks as I was filled with so much awe and reverence. All I could say was: “I believe… thank you.”
So I continued my barefoot walk on the sacred path, feeling close to the earth, the forest, to the millions of pilgrims who have trod this path before me and to the Creator. The agony was gone … followed by the ecstasy. Although, I was alone, I felt I was never alone. I savored the feeling.
As I continued walking pain-free, I realized the reason why I could not heal myself, although I could heal others. I needed a convincing sign from God that would deepen my faith. This is what I have asked for at the start of my Camino.
By one in the afternoon, I could feel the heat on my skin but I could still bear the hot surface, even if I was now waking mostly on asphalt. I didn’t feel the need to put on my sandals. So I continued barefoot walking on hot asphalt, without feeling any pain and without minding the heat of the path until I reached Pedrouzo at 2 pm after covering 24 km. When I reached the large Albergue, I was told that it was already full. There was also no lawn to pitch my tent. A pilgrim told me that the town’s sport center might be open to pilgrims by 4 pm. As I walked away, a pilgrim ran after me and told me that there was still a place for me in the Albergue. I went back and I was given a special room with only two beds – it was the infirmary for sick pilgrims. It was true that all the cramp dormitories were full but the hospitalera remembered the empty infirmary. When I entered the spacious room, all to myself, I became aware of the presence of Someone whom I realized always took care of me. I heard the silent voice within my mind telling me: “I always take care of you.” I cried again, like a child, who realized how much his parents loved him. I once again silently thanked God. I had an intimate dialogue with Someone I could not see nor touch.
I concelebrated at the 7 pm mass in the parish church. Many of the pilgrims who passed me were surprised to see me in a priestly vestment in front of them. After the mass, many greeted me and asked to have a picture taken with them. Some expressed their gratitude for the witness I was giving.
After the mass, I went out to the restaurant and had dinner by myself.
August 10, 2010
At 2:30 in the morning- long before dawn, while the other pilgrims were still sound asleep, I started my barefoot walk towards Santiago de Compostela. I was all alone. I couldn’t find my large head-lamp so all I had was the emergency pen-light which was very weak. I decided to walk on the side of the highway instead of the forest path which would have been difficult to walk on and find my way without my bright headlamp.
It was very dark and cold. As I looked up, I was thrilled to see so many stars that dotted the night sky. I remembered that the Camino path was along the Lactea Galactea the Milky Way. I began to understand why it is called Compostela – Campo Stellae in Latin, which means the Field of Stars. After gazing at the stars, I started singing the song I composed which opens with these words:
We are pilgrims on a journey across the mountains and plains of Spain,
We’re on our way to Santiago, to the field of stars…
Ulltreia, onward must we go, ultreia to the tomb of Santiago.
The following verse of the song also became very meaningful:
We are pilgrims on a journey from darkness to light
To the kingdom of justice, and peace and of freedom.
Ultreia, onward must we go, ultreia to our final destiny.
As the sun came out after seven in the morning, I was already in San Marcos. I stopped at a bar for café con leche and after an hour’s rest proceeded to the Monte de Gozo. I was passed by many pilgrims who greeted me. I told each one: “estamos aqui!” (we’re here). And they smiled, filled with joy.
From the Monte de Gozo – the mount of joy – we had a very good view of Santiago de Compostela below. After descending and covering 4 more kilometers I finally reached the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela just before 10 am after covering 20 km today and almost 800 km for 27 days. Outside the cathedral, I saw Lisa who was full of smile – that beautiful Julia Roberts smile – and she approached me and hugged me. I was pleasantly surprised and then remembered that pilgrims who have hugged the statue of St..James would often spontaneously hug their fellow pilgrims – well, those they have met and befriended along the way. OK, I like that tradition. Then, I remembered my nightmare in Ferreiros, but this time I didn’t feel terrified or paralyzed with those soft arms around me accompanied by a kiss in the cheek. She took my picture and I proceeded to the pilgrim’s office to claim my compostelano – the precious pilgrim’s certificate.
There was already a very long winding line or queue outside the office. Upon seeing me go to the end of the line, many of the pilgrims who had passed me in the Camino over the last few days or weeks began to clap their hands. Many shook my hand and hugged me. After a while, two young women approached me and asked if I wanted to skip the lines and move forward. I told them I’ll just wait for my turn. They told me that it would take 2-3 hours to wait and I will be late for the noon-day pilgrim’s Mass (they must have known that I am a priest). I reluctantly said yes, if it would be OK for the other pilgrims. They quickly went ahead and asked the other pilgrims if it would be OK for the Barefoot Pilgrim to move ahead of the line. They came back and escorted me as the pilgrims allowed me to go ahead and I could hear the continuous clapping and applause as I passed the pilgrims. I reached the front of the line and stopped beside Dom Antonio – the Italian pilgrim priest who had been waiting in line for over two hours. We hugged each other and then went in to get our compostelano. Inside the office, John - one the volunteers who were issuing the certificates welcomed with me with a hug. We have been communicating through the Pilgrims’ Forum on the internet and he was expecting me to arrive today. He was surprised that my fellow pilgrims allowed me to move ahead of the line. He told me that yesterday, there was a fight among pilgrims when someone tried to cut in and move ahead of the line. He immediately escorted me and Allesandro to the sacristy of the cathedral so that we can concelebrate. I requested John to ask the master of ceremonies if I could concelebrate barefoot since I have been walking barefoot on the Camino. The master of ceremonies did not object. More than 30 minutes before the mass, some of the priests –including me- were asked to hear the confessions of the pilgrims. Among those who came for confession was Mark, the other Filipino pilgrim. Dom Alessandro also made his confession to me. By noontime, the Mass began and I walked in procession to the altar with the other concelebrating priests. Some of the pilgrims who had seen me barefoot in the Camino and did not know that I am a priest – including Lola and Luis - were surprised to see me concelebrating.
After the Mass, Lola and Luis approached me and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and asked to have pictures taken with them. Other pilgrims also did the same. They asked to see the soles of my feet and were surprised that there were no blisters.
John brought me to his apartment for lunch which he had prepared. I had asked him to look for hostel for me but he told me that he has a vacant room for me. John is an organist of the Redemptorist church in St. Mary’s, Clapham, London. He has walked the Camino so many times and volunteers at the Pilgrim’s Office during the summer months. We became friends through the pilgrim forum.
After a long siesta, I went around to explore the city of Santiago. Since, John was coming back to the apartment after 9 pm, I told him that I will just go out for dinner by myself. As I walked near the cathedral looking for a restaurant, I met Ed, Leticia, Angela and David. Lisa was also there, together with Simona and Ilaria and others. There were 15 of us – who have met on the Camino – who went to a restaurant in Santiago de Compostela and had an unplanned communal meal together. We have become friends and companions on the journey and we were celebrating by breaking bread together, sharing bottles of wine and having a hearty Spanish meal. We had a good time, sharing our experiences and reflections about the Camino. One of the questions each one tried to answer was: “When did you cry during the Camino and why?” Of course, I shared with them what happened in the forest and in the albergue yesterday. Ed and Leticia told me that one of the moments they cried was this morning when they saw me arriving barefoot and many were clapping their hands to welcome me and allow me to move ahead of the line. David, the English pilgrim in his mid-thirties told us that he finally decided during the Camino to become a priest. He started trying to discern his vocation and the experience on the Camino helped him clarify about his future.
Towards the end of the meal, there were tears in the eyes of Leticia. We asked her why she was crying. She said she felt sad that the Camino had ended and she was going to miss the Camino and the friends she had met. I told her that the Camino has ended but our life’s journey and pilgrimage would continue.
We finished our dinner at 11 pm and said goodbye to each other with another round of hugs. I am so glad that I didn’t eat alone in the restaurant at the end of the Camino. What a fitting end of the Camino – and unplanned dinner with friends and companions. Yes, just one of those synchronistic events in the Camino. I couldn’t help but see something Eucharistic about it – a thanksgiving meal, celebrating our communion and friendship with another and surely, with the invisible Other, over bread, wine and also pasta, paella, pulpo, lamb, chicken, etc.
August 11, 2010
This morning, I walked barefoot around Santiago de Compostela to have a last look at the city before I go. I went to the cathedral and then passed the pilgrim’s office to see if there was anyone I knew who was arriving.
I saw Jan - the Pole who was driving the support vehicle for his wife – lining up among the pilgrims. I asked him where Mariola was and he answered that she was on her way to Santiago and should arrive in an hour’s time. He was lining up for her. He also told me that he had reconciled with Mariola and had been forgiven by her and they were finally going to receive communion together during the pilgrim’s mass. He also had gone to a priest for confession. I told him to give my regards to Mariola.
I also saw lining up Brendan – the gay and HIV positive pilgrim who had walked with me on the Camino several weeks ago. I approached him and we hugged each other. I was so glad that he finally made it. I told him I was leaving that afternoon. I gave him my full name and revealed to him that I am a priest. He gave me a beautiful smile as I waved goodbye to him. I was happy for him. He had told me during that walk that he started the Camino several years ago to receive God’s forgiveness but was unable to finish due to an injury. He came back to finish the finish the pilgrimage and today he finally arrived. I hope he experienced reconciliation and peace and that he will not be afraid to face death – and the loving God who had forgiven him long before he ever reached Santiago. I was reminded of the last verse of the song that I composed:
We are pilgrims on a journey within our mind, heart and soul
And we grow in the Spirit, in faith hope and love…
We are pilgrims on a journey to our final destiny
To the home of our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Some pilgrims have continued walking on or riding to Finisterre (in Latin, Finis Terrae¬ – the end of the earth). It is place overlooking the blue ocean which the ancient people and pilgrims thought was the end of the earth. For them this is the ultimate destination. But it is not. The ultimate destiny is the home which God has prepared for us.
As I was drinking café con leche inside the bar, a pretty pilgrim in her early thirties approached me and hugged me and then gave me a kiss on the cheek. We were like old friends. I couldn’t remember her name but she often passed me and once had a picture taken with me on the Camino.
So by noon-time I left a note of thanks in John’s apartment and proceeded to the train station. Ed and Leticia were there. They were taking the same train to Madrid. As the train went rapidly through the mountains and plains of Spain, I found it hard to believe that I was able to hike and sometimes run some of these places in 27 days – barefoot most of the time. It just took eight hours to reach Madrid from Santiago. I was reminded: what matters is not just the destination - it is the journey. This is the difference between the tourist and the pilgrim.
August 20, 2010
I arrived here in Rome last week and the following day I went to Milan with my friends Tina and Ed and their companion Nelly. We spent the long weekend there, visiting Lake Como and exploring the old city. During the long drive from Rome to Milan and back, I shared with them my experience about the Camino and taught them the song that I composed. They were so inspired that they decided to do the last part of the Camino (Sarria-Santiago de Compostela) next year.
Tina and Ed are old friends from way back. Ed works at the UN-FAO and Tina (who holds a doctorate in social science from the Gregorian University) organizes leadership/social entrepreneurship training for OFWs in Italy.
I spent the last few days here in Rome recovering. I just walked around the city for 3 hours each day, visiting my favorite places and buying books that I will bring back to the Philippines.
Today at midday, I will take the plane back to Cebu via Doha. I still have over 2 months left in my Sabbatical which I will spend as a hermit in the mountain of Busay. I will have much time reflecting on my Camino experience and preparing for my re-entry to "normal' life.
The journey home is not just a physical journey. It is a continuing inner journey. According to Phil Lane, the longest road you will ever walk is the sacred journey from your head to your heart.
August 29. 2010
I arrived here in Cebu (Philippines) last Saturday (August 21) and went up to my "hermitage" in Busay on Monday (August 23). Once a week, on Sundays, I come down to the monastery to join my Redemptorist confreres for meals, check my e-mail, and get my food supply for the week. I go back to the hermitage the following day.
I spend most of my time in solitude, silence, prayer, reflection, reading and writing. I also find time to run or walk in the mountains. At night, I play the flute or the violin. Or I sing to myself, accompanied by my guitar. I prepare my own meals (I eat once a day, at night). This is my "sacred space." For the last 29 years, since my ordination, I spend a month or two annually on this mountain as a hermit.
It is taking some time to shake off the jet lag. It seems that my body-clock is still following the Camino time. I have difficulty in going to sleep and waking up at the right (Philippine) time. My shins are still a bit painful and they require a few more weeks of rest and recovery. Then I start my training program for the marathon which I plan to run in January next year.
The past week, I have been reflecting on my own Camino experience, writing down the insight and lessons that I have gained. I still have seven more weeks of reflection. Some day, I hope to share the fruits of my reflection.
September 5, 2010
I've finally been able to put together the photos that I took during the Camino using the Windows Movie-Maker program. The background music is the song that I composed - Camino Pilgrim Song. I love to watch this video over and over again because it brings back a lot of memories. Watching this video over and over again helps me reflect on my own pilgrimage experience. There are three important phases in a pilgrimage.
The first phase is the preparation - a time for planning and preparing (physically, psychologically and spiritually).
The second phase is the actual pilgrimage itself.
The third phase is the post-pilgrimage stage which includes a time for prayerful reflection, reentry and going home.
The third phase is as important as the first and second phase. We should not rush to go home and forget what we have just experienced. We need time to go over deeply what we have gone through, observe the changes and transformation in ourselves (physically, psychologically, and spiritually) and sum up the lessons and insights that we can bring to our life. This is what I am trying to do as I live in solitude in my hermitage. Hopefully after this period, I can share my experiences with others and apply to my life what I have learned in the Camino.
The Pilgrimage did not end in Santiago de Compostela (the field of stars), it was not the final destiny, neither was the Finisterre (the end of the earth) overlooking the deep blue ocean. Our whole life is a pilgrimage to our final destiny - beyond this life, to the Divine Source of life. Meanwhile, the journey and pilgrimage continues - within ourselves and in our daily struggles to make this world a better place to live in.