Monday, 18 November 2013

Hurrah for the Amigos - a brief report on 2013

Amigos Welcome Service 2013
A brief report
This year’s Amigos Welcome Service ended on 16 October. Altogether 63 volunteers served as Amigos for a period of about 2 weeks in Santiago from 1 May to 16 October. They welcomed more than 185,000 pilgrims who arrived at the Pilgrims’ Office. On behalf of these pilgrims, the staff of the Pilgrims’ Office and all of those involved I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the Amigos 2013.
This year the Amigos Welcome Service made a huge contribution to the reception of pilgrims arriving in Santiago. Almost every Amigo reported that they personally got more out of working on the programme than they put in. In the last 6 months the Amigos Welcome Service has grown in reputation and popularity with many enquiries being received about how pilgrims can become Amigos.
There are material benefits to arriving pilgrims from the service – waiting times are a fraction of what they were 3 years ago, Amigos answered hundreds of questions and on occasions helped solve some serious problems. There are also spiritual and emotional benefits for both pilgrims and Amigos. Amigos report lasting memories of their contact with pilgrims.

Participating organisations
Following the pilot of the Amigos Welcome Service in 2012 when 26 volunteers participated it was agreed to repeat the scheme in 2013 with 52 volunteers covering more hours than in the previous year.
In 2013 the following organisations provided funds and volunteers from amongst their members:
·         American Pilgrims on the Camino
·         Confraternity of Saint James in the United Kingdom
·         Dutch Association of Saint James
·         Irish Society of the Friends of Saint James
·         The above were joined by the Canadian Company of Pilgrims late in the year
Key facts:

50% of the Amigos in 2012 applied to return in 2013
Total number of Amigos during the 2013 season      57
*Pop up Volunteers                                                    6
Total                                                                         63
*Pop up volunteers” are pilgrims who volunteer often at short notice. They may join if they are needed and we can accommodate them. This year for example 2 professors from the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies at the College of William and Mary joined us as did Michael, a cycling pilgrim, who needed to wait for a week to have his bicycle repaired. They all arranged for their own accommodation.

Source of Amigos:

APOC                                                                                     20
CSJ                                                                                         20
Irish Friends                                                                           10
Dutch Association                                                                    1
Total                                                                                      51

More analysis:

Amigos: 51 (including 6 couples)
Gender: 35 Female | 16 Male
Age: 70s (ten) | 60s (twenty six) | 50s (ten) | 40s (three) |30s (one) | 20s (one) 
Country/Association: 20 UK | 20 USA | 10 Ireland | 1 Holland
Experienced (in pilgrimage): all
Active (in the pilgrim world): all
Languages (with “A” the most proficient): 18 A | 20 B | 13 C
Number of welcomes

In the period 1 May to 16 October 2013 the Amigos said “welcome” and “congratulations” at least 185,000 times! 

Amigos Welcome Service 2014

A full report on the Amigos Welcome Service this year has gone to each of the participating countries. If they are enthusiastic about continuing the scheme we will consider running it in 2014.


The report to the countries is based on the experience of pilgrims, the staff of the Pilgrims’ Office and the volunteer Amigos themselves. With a project involving 63 people from different backgrounds and countries there were very few problems. The Amigos themselves complete and evaluation and from this we base our plans for the future. We will strive to continue to improve the service for pilgrims and the experience for Amigos.

In the evaluation Amigos also relate their lasting memories of their time in Santiago. Here are some extracts:

Some came in with a face that showed all the pain they were feeling, and with our simple greeting and welcome, that pain would melt from their face in a joyous smile, a sudden shower of tears or a sigh with an almost visible lifting of some weight the pilgrim had carried into our midst.  Pilgrims gave me back much more than they know, in thanks and in their stories, pats, handshakes and hugs.  They gave me the confidence to try more languages, and more within those languages, than I knew I could.  They shared, encouraged and gently corrected errors and pronunciation blunders with a grace I think of as a gift pilgrims receive on Camino.  They changed something in me, and I am better for it.”

“I will never forget the first Spanish lady who cried on my shoulder. “I prayed that he would live and he lives, he lives”
Or the day a tall British gentleman from Oxford stood in front of me and all I said was “Congratulations” and the tears flowed down his cheeks. He was on his own. I hugged him and he smiled but quickly composed himself and left. I wondered had he talked with anyone or shared with anyone on the Camino. I was glad to have been there for him in that short moment
Two little 15year old boys from Madrid, small fine boned children. They were on their own. “My mother said it would be safe on the Camino.” Blessed are children who have parents that allow them to spread their wings.”
Handing over my first compostela to a pilgrim after rechecking the spelling 3 times and seeing their face light up. I was as emotional as the pilgrim receiving it. A young NZ lad shared the fact that the Camino he had just completed was on his bucket list. This had had to be brought forward as he didn’t have long to live. He was now heading back to be with his wife and young family for his last few months/year. That stopped us all in our tracks that day. He was still puzzled that I knew the right questions to ask him in the queue. Then there was the gorgeous 6’2” Polish guy who got a hug because..... he was a stunner. I have 101 more stories I could tell and will remember them forever. Finally, the bonus for me was that I met and worked alongside three great fellow Amigos which made the experience such fun. This was something that no-one could foresee and I was just very lucky.”

We were walking to work across the square dressed in Amigo uniform when I noticed a couple at the feet of the steps that lead up to the main cathedral door. They were obviously newly arrived, and looking a bit forlorn. Purely on impulse I called out to them "Congratulations. And welcome to Santiago de Compostela" A startled wave was the response. A couple of hours later I saw them again at the head of the stairs just before they went in to the office. They said "You will not remember us, but we won't forget you. You will never know how much it meant to us you saying what you did, at the moment that you said it". It is not at all important that they know it was me that did it, but that someone in an Amigos shirt gave them something that they needed.

“I will remember a lot of pilgrims crying.. (more this year than last year...) like the couple (Ivan and Linda) from Trento I met in the Obradeiro Square, or the man from Udine I helped to find accommodation, or the very small disabled man that embraced me after receiving his compostela...or the crying beautiful girl from Venezuela, who had walked alone all the way and had to share with someone the joy of that moment of arrival, or Alberto and his wife Carmen... I will remember vividly a very reserved Corean that somehow felt he had to embrace me. I will remember the German gentleman that found the courage of revealing very tragic moments of his family life that brought him to walk again the camino. And Jack from South Africa and his cancer, and Gerda, and Boje, and the two brothers from Uruguay, and Gabriella and Pippo (the atheists from Milan...who ended up by not being certain of being atheists), and Thomas the retired army general from Canada, who came back to the office three consecutive days in order to thank, and all this helped me to get closer to understand the meaning of the meaning behind the words in our Compostela: “devotionis affectu vel voti causa” and “pietatis causa devote visitasse”. All this put the Amigo in a very privileged position and in a very spiritual ground, and certainly energises our quest of the spiritual too.”

From all of the pilgrims mentioned and not mentioned – Thank you Amigos 2013



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