Father Dan Quinn, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in Hancock.
Father Dan Quinn, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in Hancock.

Father Dan Quinn, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in Hancock, embarked on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a walk of 500 miles from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the southwest of France to the tomb of St. James (“Santiago”) at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.  He started his journey on Aug. 29 and arrived on Oct. 2. Here is the second of his weekly remembrances. 

I’ve met some interesting people while I’ve been walking: A New Zealander who has walked trails all over the world, including a number of Caminos.  A 19-year-old German saxophonist. An American couple who generally can’t agree on vacations, but happily came here together. A Scottish board game publisher. An Irish woman who works in child protective services. An atheist Dutch wo­man. Unemployed master’s programs graduates. A Canadian youth minister. A Chinese grandmother. For some reason, a number of chemists. A man who just sold his business for millions of dollars. A U.S. Navy commander. A Polish priest. A young Korean family with pre-teen kids. An Australian merchant marine. A Michiganite Boy Scout leader. A Mexican man who sold his car and motorcycle to make the pilgrimage. On this trail, we are all more-or-less equal. What matters is not where you came from, but whether you have enough left in the tank to get to the next village, and whether your feet are in good enough shape to carry you and your 20-pound pack for 15-16 miles each day. 

Once we have all gotten used to the new mode of life required on the Camino, it becomes a pleasant routine. A typical day proceeds like this: 

6 a.m. — Alarm clock. Angelus. Get dressed. Find yesterday’s laundry on the line. 

6:30 a.m. — First Breakfast: bread, jam, margarine, coffee or tea. This continental breakfast is pretty regularly offered by the albergues. 

6:45/7 a.m. — Start walking in the dark with a flashlight. 

8/8:15 a.m. — Arrive in the next village. Try the church door: locked. Find a café. Second Breakfast: fresh squeezed OJ, croissant, toast, tortilla de patate (potatoes, onions, eggs (carbs & protein)), café con leche or tea. 

8:30 a.m. — Resume walking. Pray Matins and Lauds on the road. 

11 a.m. — Arrive in the next village. Try the church door: open! Get a stamp on my credencial.  Elevenses: pinchos: croquets or a ham & cheese or salami sandwich, juice or a beer. 

11:30 a.m. — Resume walking. Pray rosary. 

1 p.m. — Angelus. Arrive at another village. Check in to an albergue. Shower. Change into the other set of clothes. Wash the sweaty set in the laundry sinks with my soap and let hang to dry. 

3 p.m. — Siesta. Vespers. 

7 p.m. — Pilgrim’s Mass with blessing. 

8 p.m. — Dinner. The Pilgrim’s Menu is often three courses with wine or water, and is often a variation on this sort of a theme: Firsts: local soup or salad. Seconds: pork, veal, chicken or fish with potatoes or rice. Dessert: flan, cake or ice cream. 

10 p.m. — Curfew. Compline (Night Prayer). Sleep in a room with 10-30 people, usually a quarter of whom are twice my age. 
I stayed at a couple of parish-run hostels this week. These hostels encourage more of a communal atmosphere.  Instead of finding a restaurant, we eat at the albergue, help cook dinner together, set the tables, and clean up afterward.  We attend Mass together, and are encouraged to get to know each other a little bit.  

Day 11 

However, at one of these hostels this week, we had an experience that I had to reflect upon for a while. The hospitaleros and hospitaleras run the albergues and take care of us pilgrims. Here they were an unpaid team of parishioners. They prayed for us before we arrived, handed out the chores, and lead us in the evening prayers and Taizé chants.  Before dinner, I had been given to set the tables while others helped in the kitchen. We enjoyed the dinner and conversation very much. Before dessert, an older man came in with his dog, and proudly proclaimed (in Spanish), “I too am a pilgrim!  Could I have some dinner? I am a pilgrim, and I walk back and forth from Santiago to St. Jean…” As he continued to ramble, it was clear to all of us, by his mannerisms and dress, that he was a homeless man looking for some charity. It was also clear that though he was trying to pretend that he was one of us, he wasn’t very successful at it. Even though the pilgrims were all from different cultures from different places in the world, we all had some degree of unity in this project, on this pilgrimage. But we weren’t like him. We were homeless, but not really. We always had a cheap bed available for the night, we always had our credit cards in our pockets, and we would be going back on a bus or a train to our homes after arriving in Santiago. But this man, he wasn’t really a pilgrim, and we weren’t really homeless. 

The hospitaleros, because their job is hospitality, got him some food, brought him with us to prayer, and found him a bed for the night somewhere else (by Spanish law, he couldn’t stay at the albergue without a pilgrim credencial). As good as it is for us to practice being homeless, it is also good to practice being hospitable. In the very act of practicing hospitality or homelessness, we become hospitable or homeless, to some degree. And we also begin to understand how homeless we actually are, no longer living in Eden and not yet living in Heaven, for which we hope. By practicing, we can become more of what we are, which are homeless pilgrims passing through our time on Earth. By practicing homelessness, and getting used to receiving the hospitality of others, we get used to the care and graciousness of God, who calls us to make ourselves at home in His Kingdom, not just in the future in heaven, but first in His Church on Earth.