Many of you may know that anyone that walks the Camino de Santiago is referred to as “pilgrim”. So what are pilgrims, really? There are two possible definitions that apply. The first definition is “a pilgrim is someone who journeys to a holy place.” This is certainly appropriate when talking about the Camino’s history which has been walked for religious reasons for over a century! The pilgrim would start from their home and walk to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, a holy place. It was believed that the bones of the Apostle St James were in the Cathedral. Pilgrims began walking to this “holy place” as far back as 950. The number of pilgrims walking to this “holy place” has steadily increased in modern times and between 2000 and 2012 over 150 million pilgrims have completed the journey!
The other definition of a pilgrim is “one who journeys in a foreign land”. That is certainly the case for the Camino de Santiago as well. In 2011 pilgrims from 138 nationalities collected a Compostela (a certificate that you have walked the Camino).
Terri and I certainly felt like pilgrims as we journeyed through this “foreign land” on our journey to the “holy place” called Santiago de Compostela. When we are far from home we leave behind everything we know that makes us comfortable. We expose ourselves to whatever may come, good or bad, trusting that there will be some help along the way.
The Camino has a very long history of people caring and protecting the weary pilgrims as they journeyed to Santiago. Terri and I experienced and witnessed this legendary caring “Pilgrim Hospitality” all along the way. It was present for us almost immediately on our travels. On the second day of the Camino, we ran into trouble after a long day of walking and there was no lodging for us anywhere. We were fortunate to experience the kindness of an owner of a Pension in town who called to the next town and found us lodging there. In addition, the owner of the Pension came from the neighboring town to pick us up! We had many such encounters with this “Camino Hospitality”.
This Christmas season, I was thinking about this wonderful “Camino Hospitality” again when I heard the Christmas Nativity Gospel. In the Gospel story, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to fulfill their census obligation. They were also pilgrims traveling in a foreign land. They were looking for a place to stay the night as well and also found “no room at the inn” and Mary was about to give birth! They were looking for some pilgrim hospitality. They did not get it in this case and the baby Jesus was born in a barn. This got me thinking about how important it is keep our eyes open to the “weary pilgrims” out there that may need our hospitality. The last few years we have taken to inviting to our Christmas Eve dinner friends we know have no family in the area. They are away from their homes and would be often by themselves on Christmas. It is always a wonderful evening with Terri cooking her famous Ravioli. It is what Christmas is all about! Let’s all keep our hearts and homes open in 2015 for the “weary pilgrims” needing some “Camino Hospitality”!