Tuesday, 17 February 2009

El mundo es un pañuelo

El mundo es un pañuelo

“The world is a handkerchief” is the Spanish way of saying, ”It’s a small world.”

Today proved that for me…

I arrived in Santiago yesterday afternoon on a turbulent flight from London. The flight was busy and I was glad to find an aisle seat and it was quite a coincidence to find that I was sitting beside Laurie Dennet an active member of the Confraternity of St James in the UK. Laurie was one of the 25 contributors to the little book, Roads to Santiago which I put together. She was reading a guide to the Camino Levante which she is translating into English. I have ambitions to walk this route which begins in Valencia so we had a good chat which helped take my mind off the lumps and bumps as we approached Santiago.

The sun was shining and I enjoyed walking from the bus station to my hostal. Hopefully a sign of the good weather to come this week.

There had been no pilgrims on the flight and it was immediately obvious that there aren’t a lot around Santiago either. In fact there aren’t a lot of people in general. The students are sitting examinations and Gallegos take cold weather seriously and stay indoors. It is strange to see this city which is usually bustling with street cafes and entertainment so quiet.

I want to work as a volunteer in the Pilgrims’ Office as often as I can and perhaps for a sustained period during the next Holy Year. This week is to be my induction and yesterday evening I reported to the Pilgrims’ Office where one of two coordinators Maria José introduced me to my new colleagues for the week. They were very welcoming and explained the background and process.

Each year over 100,000 pilgrims arrive in Santiago and report to the Pilgrims’ Office to receive their Compostela – the certificate of completion.
To qualify for the Compostela pilgrims who have walked need to have traveled at least 100 kms on foot and those traveling by bicycle, 200 kms. Their pilgrimage is recorded in a Pilgrims’ Passport or Credencial which they have stamped wherever they stop, in bars, albergues, churches, or tourist offices.

The process in the Pilgrims’ Office is straightforward. They told me what to do:

Welcome the Pilgrim
Check they have traveled the requisite distance by looking at their credencial – focusing on the last 100 or 200 kms
Get them to fill in a form which collects information for the annual Pilgrim statistics – where they started, what route they have followed and so forth
If they are going to the next Pilgrims’ Mass enter their details on another sheet so that their country of origin and starting point can be read out at the beginning of the Mass
Stamp their credencial twice – at the beginning and end with the sello (stamp) of the Cathedral
Write their name in Latin on the Credencial (books of names provided!) and present it to them

In summer there can be long queues as pilgrims arrive in the morning so they can attend the Pilgrims’ Mass at 12 noon. In February they are few and far between and we all sat about for an hour this morning before the first pilgrim arrived. “Go on John” they said, “Write your first Compostela”. So I set to the task as described above.

This pilgrim was from Korea and he had walked the Camino Francés from the border with France. He had walked through dreadful weather conditions and was very proud to have reached his destination. I turned over his Credencial after looking at the stamps and there in the front in neat handwriting was the name. “Rebekah Scott – Moratinos”.

Yes, THAT Rebekah. Rebekah my friend from the internet Pilgrims Forum who had edited the new Guides I’ve written to the Caminos Inglés and Portugués. That Rebekah with whom I had dinner in Madrid after New Year and of course that Rebekah whose blog Big Fun in a Tiny Pueblo www.moratinoslife.blogspot.com I and many others read regularly. Rebekah and husband Paddie have settled in a tiny village on the Camino Francés and this Korean pilgrim had met them.

The icing on this particular cake came when I said to the Korean pilgrim, "It has been great talking to you, your English is very good." He replied, " And you're from Glasgow in Scotland. I'm a Pastor and spent 6 months in a church in the East End!"

A very auspicious beginning to the next phase of my adventure.

with thanks to Ivar Reke for the photograph of the queue of pilgrims

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