By Fr. Pablo Hughes, OMI
They say the way we celebrate the landmark moments in our lives reflects our overall panorama of life itself. Anticipating my coming 50th Anniversary to the priesthood I realized that this golden year would be marked with the customary family and community liturgical festivities. Yet I felt the deeper need to celebrate this event in a more personal way by taking a good nitty gritty hike on the Camino de Santiago. Confess I must that, I am a ‘repeat offender’ for some 16 years ago I had walked the Camino from Burgos to Santiago, a distance of some 250 K. Now at 77 and not as nimble or agile as in begone days, a more modest undertaking was planned for, thus on the 27th I hit the road on the most traveled segment the stretch from Sarria to Compostela, a trek of some(110K).
From the first initial steps I tried to keep one goal in mind: how to be open to the “God of Surprises”! With simple light hiking gear, backpack, my trusty broken-in boots, one change of clothes, no cell phone nor G.P.S. device I kept a daily 6am starting time stopping at 1pm at whatever lodging or hostel was available. Surprises were surly plentiful, in the form of scenic beauty, unexpected detours and a multitude of advice, orientations, and chats with many a friendly polyglot fellow traveler. There also was the bonus surprise arriving after six days on July 3rd, the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle minus twisted ankle or knee and every hiker’s dream, the blessing of blister-free feet!
Yet the God of Surprises continued his work that evening with a concelebrated Mass in the famous basilica and the unexpected offer to have a photo taken at the tomb of Santiago beneath the famous 7′ high Incense thurible so memorialized in the Pilgrim Mass celebrations.
That evening the most memorable of divine surprises occurred. While lying in bed contemplating my weary feet and crunchy toes I heard the words, “This is my Body.” At first thinking that those words are voiced by every priest at Mass, but I then sensed they were being uttered maybe to me, …was I being thanked by the Lord Himself for my years of service! Rather than my trying to thank Him, He turned the tables and thanked me! Whether that ultimate surprise was the consequence of hiker weariness or pure fantasy, I will leave it to the more mystical experts to resolve. … As one forgotten wise man once uttered, “you only grow old when you stop walking” yet I would add, “you only grow old when you stop walking and …. believing in the God of Surprises!” BUEN CAMINO!