The final stage of the Cmino takes pilgrims from Monte do Gozo – the Mount of Joy – to the Cathedral itself. Being here in Santiago we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to actually do some walking and, as this stage is only 4.5 km in length, most of the group decided to attempt that. So taxis took us out to the mount so that we could share in just a little of what the walkers along the Camino experience.
It’s called the Mount of Joy because that is the first place that pilgrims actually get a view of their destination. It reminded me of going off on our summer holiday as a family. Dad would be driving and we three children would be in the back of the car. We lived in Leicestershire, perhaps the farthest place from the sea and usually we were heading to the south coast, to Torquay or Weymouth or somewhere like that – so they were long journeys in our Ford Cortina! But we hadn’t been going long before a voice from the back would ask ‘Can we see the sea yet? Are we there yet?’ and we’d then begin the game of ‘Who is the first to see the sea.’ There was joy when finally, after all those hours in the car, we actually saw the grey of the sea against the grey of the sky (a typical summer holiday)!
So it’s easy to imagine the joy of the pilgrims when they finally see the great, exotic towers of the Cathedral and know that the goal of their travelling is in sight. We stood by the memorial to Pope John Paul II’s visit and said our prayers and sang the version of Bunyan’s song ‘He who would valiant be.’ It wasn’t going to be a long walk and we weren’t expecting many Giants to fight on the way, but for some of us it would be difficult, for those for whom this would be the longest walk they had done for a long time.
The journey began and slowly and in stages we made our way to the Cathedral. One of the wonderful things about the Camino is the way in which the route is signposted, either by proper signposts with the yellow version of the pilgrim shell, or by the symbol set into the pavement, or on the walls of properties we passed. We knew all the time which way to follow and gradually others caught up with us, faster walkers, ‘proper pilgrims’.
But then, what is a proper pilgrim? We were as determined to complete this walk as they and as determined to arrive at the goal of our journey – the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral which takes place every day at 12 noon – as those who’d begun their journey hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away. And we did it and those who had been unable to walk joined us and we were all there with the rest of the congregation that packed the place to celebrate arrival at this holy shrine.
As Communion concluded the eight tiraboleiros arrived. These are men who make the Botafumeiro swing over the heads of the pilgrims. As they appeared and it became clear that the great thurible would be swinging there was a sudden and palpable sense of excitement in the congregation. People had been hoping to see this spectacle. And they weren’t disappointed. As the cantor sang the thurible shot across the sanctuary and into the transepts. I understand they help it gain speeds of up to 80 km per hour – and there it is hanging by a rope, over our heads!
But the day didn’t end there. As welcoming as the Cathedral is we couldn’t make our communion with the vast majority there who did. But we were given a side chapel to use for a Eucharist later in the day. So we had our Sunday Eucharist on Saturday evening. And as the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was read we heard these words
‘If he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.’ (Acts 9.2)
It was referring to Saul and his campaign against the followers of Jesus. But at that stage we were known as people of The Way. We were defined by the journey – and here we were, that day, people of the Camino, people of The Way. In the Gospel for this Sunday we heard St John’s account of the resurrection appearance on the lakeside and of Jesus’ triple challenge to Peter to ‘Feed my sheep.’ But that reading concluded with a two word command
‘Follow me’. (John 21.19)
Those words spoke so powerfully to us. What we had done in the morning was not some excursion, some ramble, but a living out of the calling to Christians, to be followers, to be people of the The Way and to share in the implications of that. The God of the journey speaks to his Pilgrim People, urging them on, whatever giants may be on the way, whatever foes may confront us.
God of the way, bless your people of the way, wherever the journey takes us today. Amen.