Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Cloister in Los Arcos on the Camino de Santiago

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From Monkstown to Logrono - in friendly steps

Dear Friends some months ago I felt a call to walk once again along the dusty paths of the Basque Country and to travel the ancient pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago. A year ago I had despaired of finding a spiritual meaning to life. Coming to weekly service for worship has rekindled my interest in and passion for the spiritual life again.

I love the idea of a pilgrimage – because life is a journey – and while we can be certain of one thing only – that it will end – none of us can be sure what lies at the end of the journey – if anything. We travel sometimes in bright sunshine, sometimes in dark hail but we share the road and the journey – our certainties often dividing us, our common humanity, our doubts and anxieties uniting us.

I often wonder how I found the Camino – that ancient path that begins at the foot of the French Pyrenees and stretches for 800 km to the most westerly city in Spain – Santiago de Compostela. I sometimes think that, in a mystical way, it found me.

‘Santiago’ or Saint Iago - is St James, the patron saint of Spain, one of the original 12 apostles. According to legend he made his way to Spain in the first century to bring the good news to the Spaniards of the time, who may well have been Celts. According to the Legend, James returned to the holy land where he was beheaded by Herod. His body was put in an unmanned boat that made its way to the north of Spain and he was buried in Santiago de Compostela.

Compostela is the Spanish word for the seal on a passport. The successful pilgrim in the middle ages as today has their passport sealed in every town or village along the route with the final seal in Santiago.

My aim in May is modest – to travel a mere 160 km over 8 days – starting in St. Jean Pied de Port in France and travelling via Pamplona to Logrono. I will be accompanied in this walk by my son Dan, my cousin Norman who travelled with me in 2008 and a friend Barry who joined me in 2006 and another friend Pat who is collecting for an orphanage he visited while working in Haiti last year.

I will be collecting for an Irish charity called Haven. I have chosen Haiti because it has been forgotten in the 14 months since the terrible earthquake. I have chosen Haven because I know the founders – Carmel and Leslie Buckley from Dalkey and I know they do great work and have a fantastic team on the ground.

Most people walk the Camino for spiritual rather than religious reasons. I am somewhere in the middle. I am looking forward to spending some quiet minutes every day reflecting on the Quaker queries for consideration. I hope to find that of God in every pilgrim I meet. I will try to remember our friends in Haiti who are still struggling to rebuild their lives and their homes after the hurricane. I will try and raise 5,000 euro which will build an earthquake proof home for a family which they might choose to call Santiago!

I have a Haven tee shirt, recycled from last year, which I will wear every day on my journey. I just hope we find a laundry on the way.

I would be delighted if, upon reflection, you decide to sponsor me. It means, if nothing else, I will have to finish the journey... There is no collection today or one planned. If people wish to help they can contact me over the next few months, or indeed wait until I return, if I do return….

Five years ago I thought I might bring the heaviest ruck sack ever to Spain, and I succeeded. This year my plan is to bring the lightest. I might get Ryanair to sponsor me. I think I will write to Michael O Leary. I will tell you how I get on.

Dearest Friends I hope you will follow my progress through Spain through my blog or in spirit through your thoughts and prayers. I will be happy to discuss the journey over a cup of tea which is very welcome and now overdue.

Friday, February 11, 2011

One step nearer

Our little team is taking shape. We expect to have at least four pilgrims commence the walk in St Jean Pied De Port on May 16th. My son Dan may join us via Barcelona (some short cut..)and my cousin Norman may keep us company as far as Pamplona. All in all it seems a nice number - small enough to be intimate, and varied enough to be interesting. Pat is hoping to raise money for an orphanage he visited while working briefly in Haiti. My wife is undecided whether to give her contribution to Dan or to me, but as it goes to same cause it doesn't really matter.

I popped into town to meet the nice people of Haven today. I missed Angela who had informed she would be out working, but met Sara who gave me tee shirts (has medium shrunk or am I expanding?!). Frank explained to me what was happneing on the ground in Haiti. Louise suggested we start a blog. On that matter we are a little ahead of the posse (for once) and hopefully we can bag some nice photos en route.

Those of the party approaching or exceeding the golden age of 60 (our average age is not far from 55 despite Dan being half that) feel we may have aged 10 years since our last assault 5 years ago. Accordingly we have plans to go into serious training - I will organise some walks around Howth and Greystones to whip us into shape. We can wear our Haven tee shirts to frighten off the dogs.

The Murrays will host a farewell party for pilgrims and supporters on Saturday 14th of May when Spanish food and wine will be provided in anticipation of the lack of food and wine in the days that will follow. We plan a reunion and thanksgiving to coincide with my 60th Birthday, on July 28th. Invitees will include anyone who still owes us sponsorship.

I am pleased to note that I received my first sum of money during the week from Philip. On hearing my story, Niall cycled back to offer me sponsorship. Two down, ninety eight to go...

We may run a quiz night to raise funds. We will entertain any other ideas that make money or more importantly raise the profile of Haiti.

We will probably have even fewer friends at the end of this episode of shaking them down. We are concerned that world has moved on from Haiti to other problems, some nearer home. Hopefully, by the time we reach the end of the walk we will know a little more about Haiti, about Spain and about ourselves.

Hasta Pronto!