As with all conferences there can emerge, very early on, some common themes. Some will be intentional, others will simply arise. Today began with the Archbishop of Santiago setting the scene for the conference and speaking both about the importance of the Camino in terms of European Christian history, heritage and culture and also reinforcing the point that travelling is deep within human nature. We are a people who travel – we always have been – and that there is something spiritual about this which, of course, is from where the Camino gets so much of its attraction and spiritual power. He concluded talking about the pilgrims arriving in the plaza at the west end of the Cathedral and likening this to the ‘Court of the Gentiles’ in the old Temple. It was the gathering place for all peoples then and the plaza before the Cathedral is just that nowadays.
It reminded me of my own experience here, sitting in the square and watching people arrive – many falling to their knees, some crying, overwhelmed by the sense of arrival, perhaps the sense of achievement, perhaps having done what at times on the journey they thought was unachievable.
The Archbishop then spoke about the power of entering through the glorious portal and being greeted by Christ in the Cathedral and, of course, by the Apostle St James.
The presentations then moved on to include one from a leader of the Confraternity in Luxembourg and one from the leader of the Confraternity in France. Both spoke in different ways about he challenge of secularism in Europe. The openness of the Camino, which is such a strength in many ways, is also its Achilles heel. it is very easy to walk your own Way. The pressure in France (and one delegate said that this was becoming increasingly true in Spain) is to remove the word ‘Santiago’ from references to the Camino, to expunge the Christian from association with the Camino. We also heard that there is seemingly reluctance in the hierarchy to promote the Camino as a place of true pilgrimage and the opportunity for evangelisation. The French speaker in particular was quite pessimistic from their position.
I was then invited to speak and did so with the aid of an interpreter. What I had to say about hospitality of non Roman Catholics provoked a few interesting questions about ecumenism.
Our session was then followed by one led, by a priest, who looked at popular literature associated with the Camino and the way in which it promoted ‘New Age’ syncretism. He identified Paulo Coelho and the actress Shirley MacLaine as two writers, amongst others, who have reinterpreted the Camino in ways which has moved away from the Christian tradition. These, with other writers, have questioned and challenged every aspect of the tradition and have fed the hunger for New Age interpretations and understandings of the self and the journey and the divine. He said that some have likened the arrow directing people on the Camino to the star in the sky directing the Magi to Bethlehem.
It was interesting but I’m not sure, to be honest, that much has changed. I was reminded of this verse
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires. (2 Timothy 4.3)
The challenge then and the challenge now it seems to me is the same but on a different scale – to tell people the better story, the Jesus story, the story of the one who meets us on the road and sets our hearts on fire and reveals himself to us when bread is broken. That is a much better, richer, fuller, more satisfying story than New Age or any writer who claims secret knowledge and insight can ever provide. The challenge to us is to have the confidence to proclaim, live and walk it.
Lord of the journey,
give me the confidence
to share your story
and my story
with all those with whom
I walk through life.