The Comfort of Churches

Disclaimer – these words are my personal thoughts, point of view and outlook.

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Almost every day since my arrival in Santiago to complete my volunteer work, I spend time in the great cathedral of Santiago. Yesterday, I sat in the first pew, surrounded by less than a dozen people, and marveled at the beauty of this majestic cathedral. However, this is not the only reason I visited so many churches during my time on the Camino.

Reality is, I feel at home in churches, and often, the smaller the church, the more intimate my visit seems to be. From my earliest recollection, our family attended church on a regular basis. I believe this was more my Dad´s wish than my Mom´s, and from an early age my involvement in the church was extensive. I sang in the choir (although today I wouldn´t qualify so perhaps voices change over time?) and I was one of the first altar girls to serve mass in our church in Hull, Quebec.

When my father passed away, my mother´s grief was deep and she lost faith. Until her last day, I don´t believe she ever came to terms with his passing. We saw our time in church dimish quickly and I found myself spending less time in the actual churches themselves. This is not to say that I forgot about my religion, not at all. I always had the belief that one can be religious without actually attending mass, and that our actions is truly what makes us a good person. I did go through a stage, mostly in my twenties, looking into various religions to explore what other belief systems and rituals were available to me.

I seemed to always drift back to my roots and my upbringing in the Catholic faith. I´ve not been blind to the issues that have plagued the churches. Corruption, abuse, scandals of all sorts are common to all religions, however it seems the Catholic churches have had more publicity than others. My experiences have never been negative, in fact, as I get older it seems I find more solace during my church visits.

The Camino has so much to offer from the smallest of praying houses to massive cathedrals. Burgos, Leon and Santiago are cities whose churches are visited by millions of tourists. Their majestic size, inpressive architecture and amazing works of art (be they statues, paintings and sculptures) draw people from all over the world. On the other end of the spectrum, even the smallest of villages typically have a church of some type.

I feel the same way be it a large scale cathedral of gigantic proportions or a small quaint church; I feel… at home.
In Spain, most masses are conducted either in Spanish or in Latin. I had my formative religious learnings in French therefore, my praying is done in French. As I attend services regularly during my stay in Spain, I´m slowly learning the Soanish versions of songs and prayers, but my immediate recollection is always in french.

From the feel of the worn down pews, the sound of organ music, the smell of the incense and the melodic tones of the prayers, all these sensations reel me back to my childhood and comfort my soul. The availability of so many churches is one the wonders of the Camino.

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Pilgrims unite … Naturally

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It never ceases to amaze me how easily pilgrims naturally connect to one another and tonight was a good 
example of such connection.

I had made my way to my favorite Santiago restaurant, Tarara, intending to enjoy my meal and take a leisurely walk back to the apartment when a group of six pilgrims walked in for dinner.

I could tell by their smiles that they had arrived from their Camino and joy could be seen in their smiles.

I congratulated them and after a few exchanges they invited me to join them. It was a fun evening of stories, laughs and smiles.

There is an strange but wonderful connection that pilgrims share which facilitates such encounters. Many mentioned that meeting other pilgrims was one the highlight of their  journey.

This type of open communication seldom happens on day to day life, or at least this has been my experience. The Camino in itself foster the connection to other simply by its nature.

We often rest in albergues which house anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of pilgrims. We often share meals in groups and the walking itself is not done in a secluded way.

We are constantly surrounded by others and although some could meander through their journey alone, I would say most of us do interact with others.

I’ve learned that although language can be a barrier, it does not exclude good communication as there are many ways to shared ideas regardless of language.

As time goes on, many find that starting a conversation can happen with a simple smile, a nod or a buen Camino. 

Tonight was one of those special moments when united by a common experience (the Camino) but enthralled by our respective points of view or journeys we became a unit. A unified group made up of pilgrims of distinct backgrounds, homelands and age assembled and connected, even for a short period of time.

We all walk away that much richer in joy from spending those few hours together. I suspect (although I would like to try) that connecting in such a way would be challenging in our day to day lives unless we had a common thread that could tie us all together.

Regardless of the dynamics at play, I value each and every time this happens. It’s one of my biggest joy and I hope somehow I can replicate these types of connections outside the Camino world. 

Tonight I left the table with a big smile and a strong appreciation for those six pilgrims who lightened my evening! 

Cheers from Santiago
Sylvie

Making a difference in the world

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Do you ever wonder if you can make a difference in this world? Do you think it needs to be a big project, or a simple smile? Either one can make a world of difference, even if it is to ONE person. A smile, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, two ears to listen, a hand – – all of this can brighten someone’s day.

And then, there are those who undertake BIG projects. Yesterday I met a group of individuals who collectively have raised awareness of the strength, ability, determination and focus of those who live in a world that is not easily accessible to them.

Today, on the Camino de Santiago a young man is turning heads as he and his team ride through Spain on a specially made bike. Pietro, a 34 year old paraplegic is an amazing example of someone who is taking life by storm. I had the pleasure of his company and I learned a wee bit about his life and projects.

His biggest wish is to one day, see the world as an accessible place for all people. He is on his second Camino and he is surrounded by supportive people who love and admire him. This Camino he is making with his father Bart, and two friends, Manolo and Andrea. Spending time with the four of them really allowed me to see how cohesive they are.

Pietro speaks to many groups as well as conducts many interviews during his treks. He is a gentle person who is quick in acknowledging everyone he sees. He speaks many languages and works in the information technology field when he is not traversing entire countries.

People like Pietro are many; just look around and seek those who are fighting for justice, for equality, for freedom of speech, for kindness, for humanitarian causes and such. But not all of us can or choose to be as visible yet we all can make a difference in the world.

I know that I have been touched by Pietro and his group and I feel very privileged to have spent an evening with them. I am to connect with them again when they arrive in Santiago in a few days and I look forward to celebrating the completion of another of their project.

And I will remember that no matter how small the gesture may be, how short the encounter may be, how fleeting the connection may be, we all impact one another every single day. It is our choosing to make the impact a positive one, a goal I will strive to always keep in mind.
Cheers from the Camino
Sylvie
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Ode to my boots

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Ah, Dear Boots, how you have served me well. You have been my constant companions through two Caminos and hundreds of kilometers of training at home.

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You have brought me stability through rocky descents and difficult ascents. You have provided warmth on those cold morning walks. You have protected my feet from rough terrain, uneven paths and hot street pavement.

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You have been through snow, sleet, rain, mud and dirt. You have even been chewed on by one lovable dog, hence your missing shoelace tips. You have travelled the path of millions of pilgrims and warriors of various countries. You have taken the same paths that have been taken throughout the last thousand years.

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You have gently stood in churches and cathedrals built as early as the thirteenth century and have rested in newly opened albergues.
You have served me well, Dear Boots, and you now can rest knowing your walking days are completed.
Thank you!

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Your grateful and humbled wearer/owner
Sylvie