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 fourth in a series of weekly remembrances. 

Day 23

For the most part, the way leads through the countryside and small villages. But every so often it takes us through a big city, usually the capital of the province. León is a fascinating and beautiful city. And as all the big cities do, it has a cathedral and a number of other parishes and houses of religious sisters and brothers and their chapels. It also has an excellent food culture.  And every drink you buy comes with free pinchos! I think it’s an attempt by the restaurateurs to keep their patrons sober and thirsty. 

I stayed at the hostel built into the dorms of the Capuchin Franciscan university, but was hardly ever there, given all there was to explore. León’s cathedral, known as “The House of Light” was especially beautiful. Built during the High Middle Ages, it is mostly windows with just the minimum of stone columns necessary to hold the roof up. Though it doesn’t have as much glass wall space as the all-glass buildings that we are able to build today, I’d put its beauty far beyond most of them. Its existence, and its endurance until today, is a testimony to the ingenuity, engineering prowess and architectural brilliance that developed during the 1200s. And it happened to be the diocesan feast day, so there was a special Mass and a festival in the plaza out front! 

Day 26 

We had a bit of a culture clash in a little hill town called Rabanal. 

For anyone considering walking the Camino, I’d suggest learning a few things beforehand. The niceties in Spanish are important, and the most important is Buen Camino, which means “Good Camino” or more specifically “I hope things go well for you along the way.”  Gracias = “Thank you”; De nada = “You’re welcome” (literally, “it’s nothing”); por favor = please; and then there’s the all important Donde esta el baño?, which means “Where is the bathroom?” (although they also call them los aseos). 

Liturgically, it’s also important to be prepared, as there is generally a pilgrim’s Mass each evening. Communion is usually distributed under one form, the host, but those extremely low-gluten hosts are regularly available. The Salve is sung at the end of almost every Mass (in Latin); it’s good to be regularly asking for the intercession of Nuestra Señora del Camino, as Mary knows what it was like — during the trip to Bethlehem and flight into Egypt with Joseph and baby Jesus — to be on the road constantly.  Also, know the responses for Mass in Spanish, or say them in English but know when to say them. Some people I met felt they couldn’t fully, actively, participate. I shared with them my “The Word Among Us,” which I had brought so that I could understand the readings easier, and encouraged them to proclaim the responses in English. 

Finally, although it’s pretty hard to predict how the locals might sing the Holy Holy, Lamb of God or the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, more often than not, these parts of the Mass were sung in Latin, as the Second Vatican Council prescribed in Sacrosanctum Concilium?54: “Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” This was especially important on the Camino, when there are gathered together so many people from so many different parts of the world each with their different language. It was really nice to be able to sing in prayer together, even though we were from so many different cultures. The culture that mattered here was that we were children of God and of the Church. If I remember correctly, generally we sang Kyriale XVIII, Deus genitor alme, and Kyriale VIII, De angelis. 

The Benedictine monks at the church there were very nice, and allowed me to assist at the Sunday Mass. After vesting, one of them handed me a Graduale Romanum, and away we went. After Mass, back in the sacristy, that same one said to me, in Spanish, “You sing well, for a diocesan priest.” I replied that I’ve been singing since before I was a priest, and graciously accepted both the compliment and the insult. 

Day 27

Today we ascended to the highest elevation along the Camino Frances, 4,520 feet, which is also the site of the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), where pilgrims traditionally leave a stone, or perhaps something else that they have brought with them from home. It was a cold and dark morning. I didn’t bring gloves with me, so I put my (clean) third pair of socks on my hands and up my arms. Near the summit and the Cruz, the sun rose, and was beautiful. The Cruz de Ferro is, for many people (as mountaintop experiences often are) a quiet place of prayer, time for reflection on how far they’ve come and how little there is left to go, and an opportunity for closeness with God, to pray about what has been lost in life and what needs to be placed at the foot of Jesus’ Cross, which only He can take care of.  Of course, for others, it’s another photo-op.  I don’t know why, but I found it difficult to part with the little piece of bluestone that had been in my pocket the whole time. 

Day 28 

Arriving in Ponferrada completes my fourth week on the Camino.  It’s also the day that I had to leave behind one of my compañeros del Camino (companions on the journey). We met the first day, but had only walked together for the last 10, and so we were a little group of four.  But our foursome has become a trio, because she has to wait up for some family and walk with them for a while. It becomes difficult to leave people behind, especially when they are easy and supportive companions. But there’s the hope that we’ll all see each other again in Santiago. 

This is an easy parallel to the journey of life. We travel together, and we’re going toward the same goal: the Kingdom of Heaven. We may lose each other along the way, by growing apart, moving away, or death, but so long as we all continue to move toward our goal, we will find each other again.