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Hello and welcome fellow pilgrims to the Pagina de Peregrinos (Pilgrim’s Page). Follow and interact daily with ME! Steve as I set out to find a few of the billion plus stories out there on the Camino de Santiago
For those of you that don’t know, currently I am in route to become one of the next OBS Video Missionaries. As of now, I am in the process of gathering and learning everything there is to know about the language(s), the culture, the history, and the Catholic Church in Spain, before beginning my pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain on foot.
My current stage at this point—my pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, is to find places tostay and people to meet. At this point I am trying to keep open to where I am supposed to go and hopefully encounter enough people and place along the way to help me acquire some tools and knowledge for the real pilgrimage ahead!






Blog 1: Last night in Madrid
My last night in Madrid I was able to spend it watching the sunset at the Cathedral with a “Spanish” picnic. Additionally, I was able to intercededfor anyone at World Youth Day that managed to go without spilling something or makinga mess by having a full bag of Pistachios explode onto the Cathedral steps leading upto the front doors… **NOT on purpose… and was made fun of by a fellow traveler from Germany. I cleaned my mess, shot the video for the Video Blog (See above) and continued my Spanish picnic with a glass of wine with a new friend. !!!OBS inFrankfurt???!!!
The morning of my “Last Night in Madrid” as I guess I am calling it, was full of anxiety and uncertainty. Prior to coming to Madrid I had ordered a waterproof backpack that came—one day after we had already left. Fortunately I have a friend (Nathan) that left a few days later than me and was able to bring the backpack to Spain with his group. However, Nathan was in Barcelona but would be leaving sooner than expected to Salamanca, Spain where he will be studying abroad this semester. Nathan was in Barcelona, but leaving for Salamanca—one day before I was planning on meeting him. However, I was easily able to book a train ticket online with Renfe Rail and would be enroute from the Madrid train station that night at 10:50 and get in at 9 the next morning.
One of the best parts of that morning was the Mass that wasn’t, and then was. Afterbooking the train ticket I went to pop my head in at one of the churches closest to where I was staying. Daily Mass in Madrid usually is at 11:00 a.m., yet—fortunately not every parish celebrates at 11:00 A.M. Stopping in a church about a quarter after 11:00, I was almost all to myself. I was able to pray and go to confession. Though I hadn’t planned on going, it’s not hard to stumble upon the Sacrament in this country.
Apart from absolution, the best part of that morning had to be when the Priest (who listens in better English than he speaks) gave me a response that was very touching by the words he spoke and even more communicative as to where I was in the world. As a testament to Christ’s presence in the Sacrament and our unity as one worldwide church—this Priest spoke nearly identical words as the last confessor I had in Colorado (who was Polish!! —if it makes a difference).
Leaving with my second shortest penance ever (it was also identical to the Polish priest’s), I walked maybe four blocks and came to another church that was having Mass. Yehaaaaaaaa, then off to Barcelona!


Blog 2: Train to Barcelona
In order to give this entry justice we have to return to two weeks ago at the start of our group Camino (See archives!!). Although Seth and I didn’t document it, after an entire day traveling we ended up taking a long bus ride from Madrid to where we would start our Camino, in O’Cebreiro in Galicia, Spain. Twenty minutes into the ride the radio played a song with an accordion and a catchy tune; that song would continue to play in my head for the next three and a half hours. A-n-y-w-a-y, by the time we had stopped at our little-over-half-way stop for lunch at a roadside bus stop, that song came on again. Since that time, I’ve heard that song in Europe everywhere (a woman singer? Does anyone know the name of it??). Well, I heard it again on the way to the Train station only this time it was being played by a shabby looking street-playing accordionist… Under the circumstance that I was in (rushing to the Metro because I stayed too long having vino with Daniella and hopping on a train to Barcelona) it totallybrought my entire time in Madrid full circle.
Thankfully while on the train I was able to have a bed to sleep in (they sell tickets for having only a seat and no bed). Garreth, my Irish friend, that I met earlier that morning and would meet again walking through the Barcelona Metro, wasn’t so lucky, and went without a bed. Me mates that I bunked with where also quite the collection as well. See you in Barcelona!


Blog 3: Arriving in Barcelona
After spending the last few days with the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Madrid, I was able to experience first hand what the Auxillary Bishop of Denver, James Conley likes to say, “if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.”
…To fill you in completely on this story, I’ll need to start from the beginning.
A few weeks prior to our group leaving for Spain (the OBS-Archdiocese of Denver-& Gallop, NM crew), I met Father Alvaro who is a DHJM Disciple and Parish priest at Saint Mary’s Parish in Littleton, CO. It was here that I made my first connection with the Disciples who originally were founded in Spain and have communities in Madrid, Quenca, Cordoba, and Rome, Italy. Father Alvaro would be leaving to lead a group of Parishioners to World Youth Day where we had made plans to meet up. However, do to telephone problems, and World Youth Day organizers anticipating one million instead of two million attendees at the Pope’s Vigil, therefore closing the doors even to people who had passes (our group included) we could not meet up.
Through God’s grace and my slightest bit of animosity and loathing of all things NewYork Yankees (JUST KIDDING SETH & JOSEPH!!!), I decided to see how someone wearing a Yankees cap would respond to “Good game last night Jeter…” It was through meeting Rafa (the Yankee fan/baseball cap wearer) who was a student studying with the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, that I was able to find their group and meet priests like Father Jaime, Father O’Conner and Father Juan Antonio. All of these priests were able to help me tremendously with support and encouragement, but it was through Father Juan Antonio that I was able to find some of the most direction and re-direction for my trip.
This generating connections experience taught me at least a few things and provided quite a fragrance to the ending of one trip and starting of another (thanks Narly Neely for that word choice). One of which became quite clear—that baseball still hasn’t really caught on with the Spanish (Rafa didn’t really know what the heck I was talking about),and two, you can randomly find a religious community amongst the two million plus people awaiting the Pope’s arrival on the streets of Madrid. God gives us direction that points, bumps, and scoots us back on the right track to have the opportunity to do His will.
Father Juan Antonio, DHJM spoke on the importance of prayer and discernment, trust and growth within a pilgrimage. It was through our discussions that I was able to discern the importance of the Camino to Santiago as a Catholic Pilgrimage. The power of its history and the history of souls that have passed along; it helped me to change my plans the night before everyone else from my group would be leaving back to the USA. The OBS mission in Spain was originally planned to continue via a solo pilgrimage on bike around the coast of Spain, the new plan being to still go solo, but on foot along the Camino de Santiago.(P.S. If anyone needs a bike in Madrid the next two months let me know)
Fragrance of the day: By coming to Barcelona, I was able to meet Nathan, pick up my new backpack and hangout out with some of the Neo Catechumens along the way.


Blog 4: Bacilica of the Immaculate Conception – Barcelona
Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you’ seek and you will find’ know and the door will be opened to you.”
God is good! Networking is done much better when you leave it up to the big man. Leading up to this trip, I spent a lot of time trying to generate contacts for places to stay along my route. However, most of what I was able to come up with was usually at best a “probably definitely;” even most of those contact were washed when I decided tochange my route/plan of attack in how I would capture what it means to be a Catholic in Spain.
I left Madrid with three of my “maybe” contacts in Barcelona and with a mission to find Nathan. After arriving I found out that one of the host families couldn’t help, another was having family troubles, and another wasn’t expecting me until later. Once again, there was ‘no more room at the Inn.’ However, as a testament to God’s ability to move mountains for you, Grace was poured out in abundance.
Today, was basically imperfectly beautiful. While I was rather human and untrusting, while God was once again able to provide above anything that I could ever need. Summed up: It started out with me worrying that I would be without a place to stay; although albergues (hostels) here are somewhat cheap (approx. 20 Euro), it isn’t a real option on a video missionary’s budget. Wondering the next direction I would need to take, I decided a good place to start would be to pray. Leaving a meeting from one of the contacts that I had made, I found the nearest church; I went in and prayed.
“Knock and it will be opened to you.”Wearing a world youth day shirt does have its perks as it led Fr. Ramon of the Basilicaof the Immaculate Conception to saying hello. I in return also greeted him with a hello along with a question about being able to get help finding housing. Prayer answered. Currently I am living on the top floor Quasi Motto style flat with the care-taker of the Basilica. There is a bed, food, water, church bells, and laundry.
God is good!


Blog 5: Reflections on World Youth Day 2011 from Barcelona, Spain
Imagine yourself as a spec of dust amongst a desert of sand. Blue, green, brown eyes for miles, flags from every continent (minus a few representative penguins) and smiles abound. At what point do you stop and ask yourself within all of the chaos and mayhem, why again is everyone here? Why are they all so happy? Why are we all packed in here like sardines just to see an old, frail, humble man and a piece of bread? Did someone just touch my butt?
This past World Youth Day in Madrid posed a few of these questions to me. If God is omnipresent and can be with us everywhere, why do we need to gather in the same place, what’s the purpose for gathering and celebrating as one unified church?
The answer for all of us can be derived from something very simple: honor. Lord, if it be to Thy Honor let this be done in Thy name. This is how we are all called to live our lives, in everything that we do.
There were moments at World Youth Day where it seemed that it would have been much simpler to have stayed home and honored Christ in another way. Maybe I could have gone to the adoration chapel down the street back home in the States; honoring and praising Christ would have been much easier with much less risk to life and limb. Except, there truly is no way a television screen back home could quite capture the experience of being amidst the excitement of one-and-a-half million plus pilgrims. Experiencing Madrid also meant being able to experience the visible disdain from anti-clerics on the streets and in subways who ripped down signs of the Pope from billboards, who gave glares and heckled youth that walked by; it also meant you would have an easy opportunity to run into a Protestant that wanted to tell you how much the Pope’s homily spoke to him and how much joy the millions here for this event has brought them.
Yesterday, I was able to meet two girls after Mass that had been coming to the same Mass once a year, every year on the same day, to honor their late grandmother. While they are willing to acknowledge that there is a God, they still don’t associate themselves to any particular church. Yet, in being Non-Catholics and not being able to participate in the entirety of the Mass, their act of coming to Mass spoke even more to how much they wanted to honor their late grandmother. This is something that speaks deeply to how our need to honor those we love really is.
This love that we share for Christ was the reason we all wanted to come to live our Faith as one. Like the family that comes from all over Spain, so did the Pilgrims of World Youth Day come from all over the World. We do these things in order to help others become aware of the importance and the honor that we want to show for the Church and for Christ.
Blog 6: Montserrat, Spain - Barcelona by Moto - Immaculate Conception Parish
Luciano and I took the train yesterday to Montserrat.  This mountain-city-sanctuary-Benedictine monastery-spiritual community is only an hour and a half outside of Barcelona and was one of my favorite places to visit so far.  Walking two blocks and taking a metro to the light rail, we were soon in the city meeting up with Luciano’s old piano teacher and her husband (Luciano is the one that is sharing his flat on top of the Basilica of the Immaculada Concepcion with me).  Minus the few perks that you would have with a Benedictine monk from the monastery, there probably is no better way to see the city than with someone who vacations there almost every year—visiting Montserrat with Montserrat Rabeuntos (the piano teacher who is also named after the Virgin of Montserrat) and Xavier Conte was an exceptional experience:
Café con leche at the apartment, Mass with the Benedictines, another train ride toward the top of the mountain, a two-hour hike with all types of weather, Paella, Café and Montserrat liquor, more hiking, museum, Divine Office readings with the Benedictines (in Catalan), and the Montserrat choir.  …Then back down to Barcelona with Wednesday Jones for some Peruvian food.
Oh, yes and most importantly, a new tee shirt! Hopefully these two can last me until Santiago
Barcelona by Motto
Montserrat was by far one of my most favorite places that I have been to so far, but viewing Barcelona by Vespa was one of my favorite ways to see a city.  Went to Celebrate Mass with F. Jordi across town, stopped in for some horchata and pastries, toured the cathedral and surrounding city, searched, found, and bought a camera, postage stamps, Turkish food, Guell Park, the beach, another Mass, a pizzeria, and Tibidabo at night (see vlog!).
P.S. yesterday in Montserrat lining the outside of the monastery and leading out from the back of the Basilica there were hundreds of prayer candles.  Two are lit for the intentions of you all!  At the end of the hall/cave of candles is a ‘promise’ room filled with belongings from pilgrims that have specific prayer promises associated with them.  There was everything to ultrasound images and baby shoes to flowers, pictures, and clothes that people had probably had just taken off their back.  Thinking it wisest to let the one who knows how to take care of her family best, I left Mary with the task to watch over the holy family (Rosemary and Liz’s saint medal) along with the promise to pray to her everyday in exchange for maintaining her intercessory prayer for those two.  (I hope that was okay!??!) Our Lady of Montserrat, Pray for us.
Immaculate Conception Parish
Sunday I found my way home for the next two weeks in Barcelona~ at the Immaculate Conception Basilica.  The past few mornings have consisted of a typical Spanish breakfast of coffee and toast with marmalade, Mass, and working in the garden/grotto within the center of the Basilica’s plaza.  After hearing that the last time I was in Europe was with my parents and godparents visiting greenhouses for my dad’s job, they let me work, planting bedding plants in the grotto next to the chicken pen~ ‘three little birds singing don’t worry, every little ting gonna be alright.’
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception has a very interesting history.  While it has since had some changes after damage from the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Basilica that I am staying at now use to be located across the city.  Originally it formed the monastery of Santa Maria Jonqueres.  Having once sat just outside old city Barcelona, the monastery was dismantled at the end of the nineteenth century and moved to where it is today, in order to make room for the expanding city.  Today, it functions as one of the busiest parishes in Barcelona.  According to Luis, a parishioner here, there are five to six filled Masses a day, everyday, which hasn’t been the case at most other parishes around here.  In my opinion a lot of it probably has something to do with the youthful-in-spirit priest and the time and energy they put toward developing their youth programs.
World Youth Day- The Catalan Youth
Since being here I have had the opportunity to re-live the WYD 2011 experience with those that traveled with the Immaculate Conception parish to Madrid.  Through pictures and testimonies of their experience during a party that the parish put on, adoration Thursday night, and a Sunday get-together that included a brief organ practice, I definitely have a better sense of what it means to be Catalonian.
For those of you that were unaware, Spain is a small country with an enormous variety of languages, cultures, geography, and history packed inside of it.  Here in Barcelona, I am in Catalonia, where the main language is Catalan—it’s almost like Italian with French and what we refer to as Spanish (or Castillian).  There are some pretty prideful Catalonians that avoid speaking Spanish at all costs, but for the most part everyone seems to know both languages very well.
So far the days here in Barcelona have been either jam-packed with millions of things or as has been the case these past two days, entire days spent trying to fix technical problems.  I came to the Basilica here last Sunday and will be leaving next Thursday (almost two weeks).  Then Lourdes…?
Blog 7 - To The Sea
Tuesday night I went on a midnight bread-run. Luciano had made some seafood but we needed bread to go with it. In the midst of running around every block in Barcelona looking for a Panaderia to buy some bread at ten o’clock at night (dinner time here), I came to the conclusion that even though I’ve been here for a little over a week, I still barely know this city. Being led around the city by others so much means that I haven’t needed to figure out where I am in relation to everything else. Usually I am either wandering around Catalonia Plaza with Gareth or Wednesday Jones, going with Luciano to purchase feed for the chickens, going to a café, or with some of the youth group visiting La Sagrada Familia and getting horchata and ice cream, all awhile being able to follow people back home (or in some cases getting walked home to make sure you find your way back; thanks Jonesy!). This prompted me to move out of my regular schedule of reading in the morning on the roof of the church and editing videos or doing more exploring.
Going for a run with the intention of just finding a good trail, I ended up with the amazing sight of a giant sailboat looking building at the foot of the Mediterranean. Passing palm trees, ice cream vendors, and shirtless locals, I was so happy to see that I wasn’t the only one that was forgetful and still trying to figure out the city. Soft white sand and a million tourists on a ‘European’ beach, followed by a swim in the Mediterranean will always make for a good run.
As of now, I officially feel like I know Barcelona better. With the redness to show for it, I’ve spent the past three days passing under the Arc de Triumf, getting lost in the park in front of the Catalonian Parliament and walking down from Olympic Port to the sands of the Mediterranean Sea. Reading/translating/studying Spanish, listening to Spanish radio on my ipod and unsuccessfully working on a tan.

Pablo and Luis’ kids on the Organ

A few days ago I was successfully able to fail at getting some more videos for the new website. While I failed at getting any good interviews, I was successful at getting to tour the city with the mindset of learning where things were; as well as getting to enjoy it with future priest/bishop/cardinal and Immaculate Conception parishioner Pablo (he’s sixteen).

Sunday, after helping serve the Mass with Pablo and Luciano, we were able to see future-cardinal Pablo show off his skills as an Organist. With attempts to shower Pablo with as many distractions and pressed keys as possible, Luis’s kids helped to create quite the performance in the loft at the Immaculate conception. NOTE: Luis if you are reading I need your story and I no longer have your contact, please right/call soon!)

Paz y bein,

Blog 8 - Barcelona’s Architecture
Everything that ‘is’ Barcelona can be summed up by it’s architecture.
Today I went to meet a friend who messaged me this morning that she has been in Barcelona for the past three weeks, starting her two-year‘honeymoon’ with her husband who is studying at the University of Barcelona for his MBA. We grabbed a bench in front of Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Mila and caught up for an hour or so… (and never did get that ice cream!!)
La Casa Mila, better known as ‘La Pedrera’ which means ‘The Quary,’ was designed by the influential Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. To comprehend the style and influence Gaudi has had on the city, you need look no further than a few blocks and you will run into a piece of work made or inspired by the Catalan Modernism movement in the late 19th century. Just as Guadi was a deeply religious Catholic—many are petitioning for his Beatification, and his faith penetrated into many of his works, so too are Guadi’s style and techniques deeply penetrated into corners, sides, and most centers within Barcelona.
Some of his more famous works include: La Sagrada Familia,(which he started work on in 1883 and it is projected to be complete in 2020), Parc Guell, Guell Pavilions, Casa Batllo, Casa Vicens, are among many others in Barcelona.

Blog 9 - Train Tickets to Lourdes
Last night, Carmen helped me find what appears to be the cheapest and best way for travel to Lourdes, France. Thankfully, ‘local’ trains are easy to use and more affordable than taking an international flight, train, or bus. Tomorrow I will be traveling via three different trains through the different local networks within Barcelona, the Pyrenees, and in France. The ‘local’ connections are about three hour rides with changes in La tour de Carol and Toulouse.
Let you know how it goes…

Today I was roaming the final must-see stops in Barcelona with some of the Catalan youth. We spent the afternoon visiting Plaza de Espanya

Lourdes, France

and Montjuic, which are both located in the heart of the city and both offer amazing views of the city. In making our way there, we also made a few stops to try to obtain a few more stories for the website. It is at this moment that I would like to preface this next paragraph with a semi-perturbed and distraught up-side-down smiley face.

My experience so far with the people of Spain, more over, the people of Catalunia is this: amazing and very friendly yet… uneasy and tentative in front of a camera, yet welcoming nonetheless (NOTE: if you disagree let me know, but every Catalan I ask has told me the same). My time collecting stories for OneBillionStories.com as a Video Missionary has only been very brief here in Spain. So far, most of my time has been spent learning the language, the culture, and the people. What I have learned is that the language, the culture, and the people are all wonderful, but it has been very difficult to convince people to share their personal story from within the Catholic faith for all of you to hear.

Therefore, my experience of collecting stories has been quite different than expected. Trying to take a lead from our man Seth James DeMoor, I came to Spain hoping to be able to rely on the generosity and openness of others to allow a stranger with some business cards, a name, and a website, use a video camera to promote this mission. While it might have more to do from being an outsider and not being from this country, or something wrong in the way that I have been asking for stories or the manner that I present the mission, or just a numbers game with very bad luck, to me it seems that there is something else at play that keeps people shy and out of the camera here. Out of seven nuns, a bishop, four priests, two seminarians, and about half a dozen lay people that I have asked, only four of them wanted me to film them. All of these meetings have been greeted with loads of generosity, but usually after asking if they would like to share their story, the subsequent response seems to almost always be “…are you sure you’re not one of those crazies?”

Is this distrust the result of a civil war still fresh in people’s memories? Are there a higher proportion of individuals who suffer from identity theft and fraud on-line here? The good part about this however has been that the stories I have been able to collect have been from those I have been able to get to spend time with and know well and have been very grateful to be able to have met them.

Au revoir … until Lourdes

Blog 10: First Hand Lourdes Experience
Bonjour to all!
Apologies for the silence, this past week has accumulated as many challenges and obstacles as any sensible and worthy pilgrimage could merit.
Lourdes was so unbelievably great to see and experience. For anyone at any stage in their faith, it is a must to visit.

Last night I stepped off the train in Lourdes at around 7 P.M. after about 12 hours of traveling. Exhausted, I left the train station knowing nothing about the town and very little about the apparitions that had taken place within it. With an empty stomach, an empty train station and only French signs to direct me where to go, I chose a direction and started walking. After passing through the string of Catholic boutiques and restaurants, I decided to stop at one of the last restaurants. Having not eaten since leaving breakfast with Carmen and wanting to collect all of the prayers that I had come to visit our Lady with, I found a café on the edge of the river. Sipping a cappuccino and laboriously trying to finish a chocolate-nutella-tiramisu pastry, I witnessed many pilgrims walking the same direction. Following the pilgrims and the same direction that I was headed, I left to discover what many have posed as their reason for returning or even entering the Catholic Faith.

Lourdes is Catholicism. It is a universal collection of pilgrims longing to find peace, spiritually and physically. We are all searching on some level for a place that can belong within our hearts and give us insight at to why we are here. So then, where do we find truth and peace in our Faith? What lifts the doubt and our weary hearts to the level of accepting the presence of a God in this world, a Christ that destroyed death? We all have our own personal experiences in which reason and understanding are able to grant us a better grasp for what the supernatural might be. …the point at which faith must whisper, enlighten, or explode upon us is different for us all. This is Lourdes, an ability to trump all.

Coming into Lourdes, the only thing that I had known previously was that there was once a girl named Bernadette that has influenced hundreds of millions to come and visit this very place. I knew that there was a white and blue statue of the Virgin Mary, a spring, and place with candles, lots of them, and a church. My experience in Lourdes has been a constant muddled tingly feeling that is in awe of the vastness of cultures that come to visit a spring, a grotto, which once housed pigs and prostitutes and now is a place of healing and faith.

A little girl whose family was with the meekest means for getting by, was one day looking for some firewood with her sister. She saw a woman in white, with yellow roses on her feet and a blue ribbon around her waist glowing above a rock over a pigsty. 18 times this would happen. A blessing or a curse, she was detested by the church until she came back and told the local priest what the woman had told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This was a dogma that the church had declared four years prior in Rome, but would have been in any extreme impossible for her to have been told. Eating grass and scratching the ground on her knees as the woman in white had told her to do for penance for the sins of others, resulted in mud and dirt turning into a spring. Where she scratched, clear water appeared and continues to run today; this water has since been the source of miraculous healings. Millions of sick today come searching for physical healings as well as spiritual and emotional peace in their lives. Searching for firewood and a means to bring warmth to her family, she would warm the hearts of millions and allow faith to enter and be deepened.

The night before leaving Lourdes, I was blessed with several great graces of being able to pray with a group visiting from Spain, meet some Italian nuns, as well as learn first hand the meaning of ‘water-prove.’ My last night in Lourdes ‘proved’ that camping in my waterproof bivy sac doesn’t actually keep waterproof when it is pouring out. Luckily the place I was staying had a laundry room with a dry floor and a quick working dryer. Nighttime visit to the Grotto in the rain anyone?

Blog 11: Part 1 - the Camino—Piedmont Route
Betharram, …Bethlehem?
Leaving Lourdes would prove itself to be a quite difficult task as its draw for you to stay is so hard to pull away from. Planning on a late-morning departure that would turn into an early afternoon one, I was forced to stop at a much earlier town than I originally wanted. Fortunately, from the Philippian who is training for a marathon and has walked the Camino twice, crossed paths with me and directed me to the Marian shrine in Betharram (the town we were in). Getting to stay in a retreat house run by an order of missionary priest whose congregation that was founded in this small town, allowed me to have a restful sleep and recover for the days to come.

That night I also had my first real French meal at the only restaurant in the town that was open. Ordering was quite difficult… but helping me order in French and paying for some of my meal and desert, a local French couple helped me to experience the blissful world of French cuisine on a missionary’s budget!

Expectations shattered.

Getting to experience the Camino for the first time last month with a group was a huge blessing and I learned many things. However, there were also many bad habits that I had picked up as well. Towns to stop and fill up on pastries and café con leche are few and far between here and the trail is much less consistently marked well in many places. The need to bring your own food and map is essential here and I have succeeded everyday in having either lost the trail or almost died of hunger— the result of trying to keep my load as minimal as possible and carrying only French map. However the Polish looking flags that guide the pilgrims on the way of Piedmont → to the Camino Frances to Compostella of Santiago help to lead me on. Matka boshka there’s no one to walk with yet either!

Two Weddings and a Funeral

Today I left the village of the Hospital Saint Blaise with two French couples that I have been traveling with since Arudy. The ‘way’ from Lourdes –la Voie de Piemont, the way of Piedmont, does not attract many pilgrims during this time of year; these are the only two pair I have come across since Lourdes. Yesterday they were with me in Oloron-Ste-Marie and again at the retreat house in Saint Blaise. This morning after saying goodbye (their pace set for being able to take in more of the countryside), I left with the very high and surreal expectations for being able to gallivant across 40 plus kilometers of Southern France and into St. Jean Peid de Port. After about 10 kilometers those aspirations would all but vanish with the thought of continuing in such humid and soaked weather. After 5 more kilometers those aspirations would subsequently be crushed with the realization that it was still another 42 kilometers (actual distance was different than previously thought). With all hope being lost for making it to Saint Jean Pied de Port—to a city big enough to be able to carry US to French electrical current adaptors to replace the ones I had lost in Lourdes, I settled to spend the night in Mauleon.

Coming into town I stopped at Café le Europe and sat down to celebrate what it means to be a connoisseur of European Pizza (when I was seven I had pizza everyday for thirteen days while traveling throughout Europe). Recovering for a bit I then was able to make it across to the huge and towering French Church where my soon to be good friend Mary would tell me that a funeral was about to take place but that the priest could probably give me a interview afterwards. Sitting through a funeral mass for someone I didn’t know in a language I didn’t understand, I came to the realization that my own expectations also needed to be let go.

My bag entering Mauleon was the heaviest it has been, and hopefully will be. Having already known what to expect by walking the finally portion of the Camino a month prior, I came in with expectations that were much lighter physical, mental, and spiritual struggle. Approaching Mauleon, I was upset and didn’t want to walk anymore (some of the dialogue I was having between the cows and the trees on my left “…Why did I walk from Lourdes? All is not well, it’s not fun, it’s wet all the time, there is no one to interview, I can’t find Internet and I’m soooo hungry… I could have started in Ste Jean Pied de Port and saved a week and could have made it into Fatima by Oct. 13th… the date of the last apparition… this is stupid.” …got the pic? Like the rain that had been falling all week, so was my moral.

Since sharing refuges with the two French couples in Arudy, Oloron, Ste Blaise, and Mauleon, who though had been walking at a slower pace were still meeting me at the same place, helped remind me of the importance behind the walk, ‘the way’ in which you get to the next town (as a champion or k’oed) and the outlook you take in getting there is the most important. The military veteran that was being put to rest helped me to remember that life is short, the Camino is short and the more I moan about my troubles the less I will be able to enjoy it. I am here for a reason and I want to be open to finding out what that is…

Agur (bye! in Basque)

Blog 12: Recipes along ‘The Way’
So, day nine on the Camino and I am pretty much an expert at it, not quite ; ). Actually, having walked close to 200 plus kilometers, I still have yet to figure out the best rhythm toward conquering the kilometers, logging the videos, or blogging out the sentences.

What rhythm do you establish as a caminoite? For most of us here (Right now I am at Jesus y Maria Albergue in Pamplona, Spain with about 100 others), it has been setting sail in the morning just as the sun begins to rise. Minus a few lagging pilgrims that talk to their café a little bit longer than the rest, most of us begin our routine relatively early by walking for a bit, taking a rest, having second breakfast*, walk some more, break out some more bread, eat some cheese, walk, rest, walk, …ending at the next day’s start.

*Recipe for Pelegrino’s second breakfast:
One part French baguette bread
One part local dark chocolate w/orange candy bar
Directions: insert chocolate into mouth, let melt. Tear from your day old bread… insert into mouth. Chew, stirring occasionally …enjoy

However, each day encounters its own pace and unique tempo; injuries, friends, mid-day sun, losing bets and having to pay-up with ice cream stops, all factor in to keep our walking rhythm consistently inconsistent. While the days usually don’t vary more than a few kilometers difference, the time in transit (between places we sleep) is quite variable (getting in anytime between 1:30 P.M. and 7 P.M).

Logrona, Spain

Upon entering Spain, the concerns of a Pilgrim become very basic. In France, the markings for the Camino had been inconsistently maintained and ‘the way’ required much more attention toward what direction to take; at least once a day I found myself lost. In Spain, the way is consistently tagged with arrows or ‘uberas,’ sea shells at nearly every juncture or path in which the direction is questionable. Besides eating, which is usually done around a big table with a mixed group of people you meet throughout the day, each day is centered on two things that include: where will your next shower/laundry stop will be, and where you will sleep. Albergues are the way of life of a Camino Pilgrim and once in Spain, usually cost about 5 euro a night to sleep in. Providing places to shower/do laundry and sleep, the accommodations are usually basic but situated in almost every pueblo and every city along the way. Many albergues are run by volunteers who have walked the Camino before and are now looking for a way to give back; such was the case with Antoni. Today we met Antoni, a volunteer with one of the lightest, easy-going, and most accommodating personalities.

The day in the life of a pilgrim is made up by the numerous conversations and times of silence that you shave through the day. The Camino isn’t meant to be solely an obstacle that is needed to overcome for the sole purpose of overcoming it (although there are days when this is all that you can think of) but never are you able to escape the Camino, and the Camino can’t be a means to escape life. More to come soon…

Blog 13: Huff, puff, blow your house down in Reliegos
Tonight we are staying in Reliegos, which is about 25 km outside of Leon, the last major big city before Santiago along the Camino. Leaving for Reliegos, I started walking in a group but ended up speeding up to walk alone for a bit. Unfortunately for the others, they didn’t get to see the three wolves that ran across the road about 20 meters in front of me… a sign for the beauty or the trouble to come?!? Tonight we are staying in the same albergue as Martin Sheen (actor in “The Way” a movie on the Camino which was released in the USA today) and Paulo Coelho (author of “the Alchemist” and “the Pilgrimage” a book on the Camino de Santiago) and a popular German writer whose name I don’t remember how to spell.

Today, I entered Reliegos with a man who had been walking for three months from his home in Poland (doing the math he is averaging over 30 km a day!!). He is Catholic and is doing the Camino to have a chance to give thanks to everything in his life and similarly to perform a type of penance. The Camino gives us such a profound opportunity to observe nature and give thanks to the order and beauty of its creation.

Hospital de Orbigo, Spain

The Camino brings people from all over, from all backgrounds and religions. Two days ago there was a Muslim from Algeria that was walking and reading from the Koran, writing something down almost every ten steps. Today, we ended our stages at the same albergue and were able to meet after mass. Before the closing prayer and blessing for all of the pilgrims at that evening’s mass, Ishmael, the Muslim from Algeria entered the church and played a song on a type of flute. Later he told me it was a song from his people in his home country and the Camino for him is a pilgrimage for God.

There are also those who chose to perform the Camino as a means of penance. Although I have not met them, there are few that have told me that there is someone walking from St. Jean Pied de Port who is carrying a giant cross and another who is walking the Camino at night on his knees.

La Meseta - León

The time I have spent walking these last few days have been mostly spent in the company of others. After leaving Burgos the Camino enters the “Meseta” landscape. The best way that I have heard the landscape described so far is that it’s the purgatory of the Camino. The “Meseta” has none to very little shade and no major cities until Leon. The land is flat and has a feeling a lot like being in both Kansas and Australia; there is a horizon with miles of hay into dry desert with reddish orange dusty roads and sagebrush.

The Meseta is along the Roman trade route and contains many ancient towns with Roman ruins such as Astroga and Leon. Leon, one of the biggest and most beautiful cities along the Camino Frances was an amazing city and my favorite so far. However, four days ago when I received the Camera that Seth had sent a week out from where I was in making ‘the way,’ I realized that the cable I had for importing film was not compatible. Having waited until Leon and finding no place in Leon (the biggest city on route to Santiago) that sold the correct cable, I left with only the sound of someone telling me that it was impossible to buy the type of cable outside of the retailer. However, after some tears and pulling of hair (slight exaggeration/but was a very frustrating time) for a day and a half, my prayers would be answered in Astorga.

Before leaving Leon, I wouldn’t find a new cable, but I would have an amazing opportunity to meet many amazing people that have devoted their lives to the Church.

The morning after arriving in Leon, I went to meet a Carmelite sister for an interview at her school that was very near to the cathedral. That morning I didn’t expect it but I had the privilege of being able to here the story of this Carmelite nun as well as an opportunity to visit a cloistered religious community of Carmelite sisters at Saint Teresa of Jesus just outside the city of Leon. I was able to take six amazing audio recordings of the stories of the sisters there and had an extremely enjoyable experience. How can these sisters be so happy and joyful by living such a simple life? It was very obvious that from these women’s eyes, their smiles, and their testimonies, that the world offers nothing compared to the joy that they find in devoting and centering their lives on prayer.

Blog 14: The Camino is always asking us why?
The question of why is a loaded question. For only three letters, it packs a very strong punch. According to ‘Belgium’ (nicknames among friends along the Compostela usually stay pretty uncreative) who admitted that the question why is often used as a ploy to trip up others in their beliefs. “Why do you believe the things that you do? Why does it have to be like that? Why does it have to be different? Why are you that way?” It’s a ploy to get you to try and trip up on your beliefs. If you continue to ask the question why, eventually you will have to come around to a point where something doesn’t add up. Right?

Never settle. If you ask the why questions you will figure out the Truth. Why do we believe what we believe? What’s the use in having a faith if you don’t get to know it?

The Camino brings people from every background together and the distance that we travel offers an opportunity to ask many questions and listen to many stories. After about one billion steps on the Camino, there are about one billion opportunities to meet new people, listen to their stories, and ask questions. The past few days I have been walking with a primary school teacher from Belgium. Her up bringing was not in the Faith, but her personality as someone who is always asking “why?” makes her the perfect example for how we ought to approach our own faith. Ask why, search for answers, pose questions and they will open new ones; strengthen your faith by questioning why and be open to it.

In any religion where there is a supernatural element, there will always be some form of faith required. But within the Catholic Faith, belief is based on faith and reason. When we can understand the reasoning for why the Catholic Church believes what it believes, we can take away our perceptions of what faith ought to be—living our faith in reason.

There is a reality on the Camino and it is a concept that becomes very concrete: within our humanity, we are very fragile. Blisters, injuries, sun, rain, dust, the miles, the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges that you face everyday on the way to Saint James; on the way of life.

Implore his grace in every moment, in every place.

Blog 15: Where Will Steve Go Next?

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