Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Message from Confessional Number 2
I learn later as we chat in his room in the Pilgrims' Office that the confessional in which he sits every day near to the tomb of St James is only a few metres from the house in which he was born just off the Plaza Quintana. His early years were very happy and he enjoyed his primary education at the Colegio de los Remedios. In those early years he wasn't aware of pilgrims. There really weren't very many arriving in Santiago. But from as early as he can remember he was aware of St James. His older brother went off to seminary to train for the priesthood and at the age of 10 the young Jenaro wanted to follow him. His mother however wanted him to finish his education before considering seminary. Perhaps understandably she wanted to keep her youngest son at home for a while longer. This was not to be and the vocation of the youngster prevailed and off he went making the journey of 50 yards from his home to enter the Seminary at San Martin Pinario. Despite the proximity of his home, like the other boys, he lived in the seminary. These were happy days and he smiles as he relates the story. For one who hadn't travelled very much from home to cathedral and to seminary his favourite subject was geography.
He sighs as he describes how the church was different then. From his year alone 130 priests were ordained. He was ordained at the age of 21 with more than 20 others from his class. In his final year of studies he had been secretary to the assistant bishop of Santiago and after ordination he spent some time in the local parishes of San Benito and then Santa Maria del Carmen before becoming a member of staff in the cathedral. His first appointment there was in 1961 and his job was to organise two main services each day - Laudes in the morning and Vespers in the evening. He worked at this and various other administrative tasks for the next 27 years before being made a canon of the cathedral in 1988. In that role he taught religious studies in a school in Santiago and increasingly became involved in the education of young people.
Although he had been aware that the previous Director of the Pilgrims' Office, Don Jaime Garcia, had become ill he was genuinely astonished when on the fateful day of the terrorists attacks in Spain, the 11 March 2004, the Archbishop appointed him to be in charge of pilgrimages and de facto CEO of the Pilgrims' Office.
"Why did the Archbishop pick you for this job above all of the other canons?" I asked. I could see him deciding how to answer the question when the moment was lost as his mobile phone rang with an incredibly jazzy ring tone which seemed strange emanating from the pocket of the priest. With a nod of apology he answered and conversed in a stream of Gallego, the language of the region.
I tried a different tack..."How does it feel to be in charge of the pilgrimage and this office?" I asked. "With so many people arriving" he replied, "it is a huge responsibility, we have to welcome pilgrims properly, we can't keep them waiting too long. I have to deal with the press, do interviews. But I am helped a great deal by two permanent assistants, Eduardo and Mari who help run the office, but we only ever have temporary staff. Such is the nature of the way we are funded. But we do it and this year more records have been broken. This is a good team."
In his analysis and reflection his religious convictions are always to the fore and he speaks of the rise in secularism and the selfishness of the 1990's to which faith in his view is the only antidote. He sees the Camino and all pilgrimage experience as part of the spiritual thirst he sees in the world as people strive for another way to live. People are looking for more meaning than money and material success. He is concerned that as numbers grow the spirit of the Camino, as essentially the search to come closer to God, will be devalued. It may simply become "something that is done for sport, for fun, because everyone is doing it." However as if to reassure himself he immediately related that only that very morning he was talking to some young people who had been deeply moved by their Camino experience.
"What of the future?" I ask, "Will the Camino continue to grow?". "Only God knows the answer to that" he replies and this eyes twinkle mischievously, "but I think it will, we have not yet reached the plateau if that day will ever come."
"And at this time of the year when Santiago and the whole world is preparing for Christmas a final word to pilgrims and members of Confraternities and Amigos groups who support them?"
"I want to wish all pilgrims a very happy and Christmas and a peaceful New Year. I want to express our gratitude to those who support pilgrims and to exhort them to maintain their efforts in the future."
"Will the Pilgrims' Office be closed for Christmas?" I ask. "Only on Christmas Day but I will have the stamp of the cathedral and the compostelas if any pilgrims arrive."
Pilgrims arriving on Christmas Day should report to confessional number 2.