On Divine Providence
by Pauline Susanto, a member of the Holy Trinity Community in Canada who recently completed her Camino (a month pilgrimage in Spain)
"It is only right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give You thanks, Father, most holy..." were the words that repeated in my mind as I took my last few steps into Praza do Obradoiro, where the imposing Catedral de Santiago stands majestically as the centerpiece of the famous square, and more importantly, where my Camino (and so many others') would meet its end.
Accompanied by the sound of the Galician bagpipe, Priscilla, my walking companion for that last week, turned to me and with a twinkle in her eyes, asked: "Pauline, are you ready?"
Truthfully? No. Absolutely not. I wasn't ready for my Camino to end.
How was I suppose to say good bye to what had been the most incredible experience of my life?
26 days prior, on November 2, 2014, I embarked on a quest to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route many have walked over the last thousand years. I started in a little village in France, called St. Jean Pied-de-Port, and my only goal was to walk to Santiago de Compostela, 784.9 KM away. Why? "To strip away so that the fundamental things appear" (courtesy of Fr. Robert Barron) was my automatic response, but really and truthfully? I wanted to see Divine Providence in action. I wanted to see how God provides for ME, not the world, not other people, but just me.
And boy, did I get that!
To show you what I mean, here are several anecdotes where God took over and showed me just how much He loves me.
Blisters be gone!
I naively thought I wouldn't get blisters on my feet because, well, I bought several pairs of expensive socks and my boots are Merrells, you know? I wasn't supposed to get blisters! Despite the quality footwear, I can see hot spots forming at the bottom of my left foot by day 2 of walking. When I got to Pamplona at the end of day 3, those hot spots have become full-blown blisters that needed to be drained lest they be infected. There was one minor problem with that, though: I had no idea how to drain a blister.
Thankfully, I was walking with an American named Hunter, who was more than willing to help me with them. And I should say, he didn't just help me with them, he basically took care of my feet and drained all the blisters that formed in that first two weeks of walking.
Thank you, Lord, for sending people to take care of me.
A simple wooden stick.
Before I left for the Camino, Bill from my church said to me: "You can borrow my walking sticks if you'd like". I've walked a lot and I have never needed to use walking sticks before, so thinking nothing of it I politely declined his offer and left without bringing them.
On the first day, we had to go over the Pyrenees mountain range to get to the next village, Roncesvalles. I thought going up a mountain was hard, but it gets much more challenging to go down a mountain without any sort of support. By then, I had been walking for close to 7 hours with no food and very little water. It was raining and I was going through a beautiful beech wood forest with bare trees and orange leaves on the ground yet I couldn't care less about the beauty that surrounded me; all I wanted was to finish but the end seems to be nowhere near.
To say I was tired is a huge understatement; it was getting harder and harder to take that next step forward and my determination was wearing thin. Just when I was beginning to lose heart, I looked over and there was a wooden stick lying on the ground on the side of the trail. I picked it up, noticed it's the perfect height for me, and I started to walk with it. It's funny how much stronger you feel when you finally have that extra support!
My stick helped me go up and down the hills of the Camino, it supported me when my legs were in pain and it helped me thwart wild dogs. It stayed with me until I got to Santiago where I left it on a pile of walking sticks by the Oficina del Peregrino, where hopefully it can be of assistance to another weary pilgrim.
Thank you, Lord, for lifting me up when I didn't think I can continue.
My Camino Birthday
I didn't know where I was going to be on the 13th nor did I have any plan for my birthday yet God orchestrated the most beautiful birthday for me (like I can expect anything less!). I woke up that morning to a chorus of "Happy Birthday" sung in 3 different languages: English, Korean, and Spanish. This was only possible because there was only one albergue (pilgrim hostel) open in the village and everyone ended up staying there. Furthermore, the hospitalero put all of us in the same room despite our different arrival times. After a special breakfast of churros con chocolate, I spent the day walking with Antonio, Manuel, and Jo, friends I've met on the Camino.
Later that night while we were chatting at the bar, Jose and Herna, whom we thought we have lost touch with, walked by and we frantically waved and flagged them down. I need to give you a little bit of a background story for this to make sense. I met Jose and Herna over dinner at Roncesvalles (in the beginning of the Camino) and for the next several days, we'd always pass each other and we'd have small conversations here and there. They were scheduled to finish in Logrono (a 7-day walk from Roncesvalles) while the rest of us would continue on to Santiago. I never got to say good bye to them when we got to Logrono and I was quite sad that I didn't get to do so.
That day, on my birthday, they happened to be in Burgos and passed by the bar where all of us were hanging out. Call it a coincidence, but I'm going to stand my ground and believe that God planned everything to happen the way it did. Jose and Herna joined us for drinks and all of us were truly happy we got to be reunited one last time.
Also, did I tell you how beautiful Burgos is? That city couldn't have been more gorgeous and there is really no better place to celebrate a birthday!
Thank you, Lord, for being such a wonderful party-planner!
Walking with St. Francis of Assisi
On day 20, somewhere between O Cebreiro and Triacastela, while passing by a very old stone church, Priscilla, my walking companion, casually mentioned:
"Did you know that this year commemorates the 800th Anniversary since St. Francis walked the Camino?"
What? St. Francis WALKED the Camino? St. Francis of Assisi, right? I didn't know that!" I indignantly replied.
"Yes! He walked it in 1214. So, when you get to Santiago, don't forget to bring yourcredencial (i.e. pilgrim's passport) to the Franciscan Church and they'll give you another compostela, one that is released only once every 100 years!"
St. Francis is very special to me because he is the patron saint for my Holy Trinity Community cell group in Toronto. I have grown to love the Saint and have invoked his help on more than one occasion. Knowing that he has walked the same route made things much easier when the going gets tough and made my Camino that much more special!
Thank you, Lord, for the hidden surprises along the Way!
The Swinging Botafumeiro
There are many ancient traditions that take place within the walls of the Catedral de Santiago, one of them being the swinging of the botafumeiro, the giant thurible that expels thick clouds of incense as it is swung across the transept of the church. When I said "giant", I meant GIANT - the thurible is 1.6m in height and weighs 80kg. A shovel is used to fill it with incense and it takes 8 full-grown men (known as tiraboleiros) to pull on the pulley, which will give it its oscillatory motion across the transept of the cathedral. Today it is more of a show, but historically, this was used to mask the odour of ancient pilgrims who have walked thousands of kilometres into the Cathedral.
I was told early in my walk that this tradition used to be performed daily, but because of increasing cost, it is no longer the case. Pilgrims or tourist groups nowadays would have to form over 250 Euro in order to have the "show". I had no idea whether or not I was going to see it live. Of course I was disappointed, but I muttered a simple prayer and left it in God's hands.
I arrived to Santiago on Thursday, November 27 (American Thanksgiving Day, no less!) and as I was getting my Compostela, I was told that there is a Pilgrims' Mass with Botafumeiro on the next evening at 7:30 PM. Imagine my delight when I found out my night bus on the same evening would leave at 9:30 PM, which means I can go to Mass and see the botafumeiro in action that night. What a great way to say Adios! to Santiago!
You see, when God is your travel agent, you can be assured that everything, big or small, is perfectly timed and very well taken care of. The Camino is without a doubt the most perfect trip I have never planned in my life.
"Si! Vamos, Priscilla!", I said and took those last few steps under arch of the Pazo do Xelmirez, bypassing the bagpiper before finally standing in front of the Catedral.
I have arrived.