May 23, 2013
Determined to make it to Santiago in time for the special celebration, we headed out of Amenal about 6:30 in the morning. It was still dark so Liz wore her head flashlight to lead the way. Before long, we were able to watch the sunrise. So beautiful! The walk was easy – not too many up hills or down hills – just a nice comfortable terrain. I thought back to the times a few people expressed not liking it when the path went alongside the freeway. But what I noticed was that, whenever there was a freeway on one side, there was always woods or streams on the other side of the trail. All we had to do was direct our focus to the rural side and block out the traffic and noisy side. Hmm, another lesson here.
There was little open at this hour of the morning but about six miles along we found a café. We were getting more and more excited that we were so close to reaching our destination and equally sad that it was all about to end. We ran into Cecelia from Copenhagan and she and I walked together. Just outside of Santiago, we came up a sweet little church, Capilla de San Marcos. My friend, Jerry Smith, had told me to be sure and stop here. I could see why. It was so beautiful in its simplicity. I got my pilgrim’s passport stamped here. Before long, we arrived in Santiago. At first, it was a bit of a letdown in that it seemed like just another big city. After so much rural walking, it was hard to end the journey walking down city streets amidst busy streets and commercial zones. But then we spotted one of the steeples of the cathedral. I could feel my heart pounding. We made our way through the streets quickly and found ourselves in the very old part of Santiago. The familiar golden shells were embedded in the sidewalk that led us closer and closer to St. James Cathedral. Finally we walked into the main square and were awestruck by our surroundings. There was the magnificent church looming over us. It was only 10:30 so we made our way to the pilgrims’ certification office to get our official pilgrim’s certificate. We showed them our passport to prove that we had really walked the Camino. Liz was standing next to me getting hers as I got mine. As the clerk explained that my certificate had my name in Latin, Irenum Reid, and congratulated me, I turned to Liz and began to cry – not just a few tears running down my cheeks but full-blown sobs. We stood and hugged each other not letting go.
From there we made our way to the Church where Mike and Brent were saving us seats close up to the altar. It was great to hook up with Brent again. Soon the service began and a woman read off all the places that pilgrims had come from. We truly represented all corners of the world. On the walk that morning, Liz had said that this is the one time that she wished that we still had the Mass in Latin. Well, she got her wish. Given so many different languages represented, all the responses were in Latin: the Kyrie, the Confiteor, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster, and the Agnus Dei. I did find it comforting to be able to join in with the service in those parts. At the end of the Mass came the highlight, the famous swinging of the incense. Only this is no ordinary ceremony. The priest lit the incense, the gigantic container of which hung from a lever way, way up high. It took six men to pull the rope to get it to swing and for the next five minutes the incense swung from one side of the church to the other dispensing the incense. It was an awesome sight. Our eyes would follow it to the far side of the church and then our heads would roll back as we followed it above our heads. It was a blessing like no other I’ve ever had. Indescribable!
Afterwards, I stood out in the courtyard and watched performers dancing, living statues poised for willing passersby to take a picture with them, people dressed like the pilgrims of old, music playing. Soon the gang of friends we’d made along the way gathered together – Brent, Mike, Liz, Cecelia, Marjo, Will and other friends Liz had made – and all eleven of us went for a bite to eat sitting outside in the beautiful sunshine. I can’t even begin to describe the joy in the air. Everyone was congratulating each other. There was no sadness anywhere, just happy smiling faces jubilant at the accomplishment of a difficult but worthwhile journey. Huge numbers of people start out on this pilgrimage but I’m told many don’t make it to the end. It is quite a feat to be among those who reach the destination. I know how thrilled I am to be among them. For now, I look forward to sleeping in tomorrow with no walk ahead, only a day of sightseeing in Santiago.