Acogida Cristiana y Nueva Evangelización en el Camino de Santiago: Nuevo atrio de los gentiles – (Christian Welcome on the Camino de Santiago: Evangelisation in the new atrium (space) of the religiously non-committed).

The above was the title of the International Congress of 2017, the fifth, organised by the Centro Internaciónal de Acogida al Peregrino (Pilgrims’ Reception Office), in Santiago de Compostela, from the evening of 3 November until midday on Sunday 5 November, and it was my privilege to have been asked by Mr Turlough O’ Donnell, our Society’s President, to attend on behalf of our Camino Society.

The Congress was opened by The Reverend Sr. D. Segundo Perez, Dean of the Cathedral of Santiago. His Excellency Sr D. Julián Barrio, Archbishop of Santiago, who welcomed us all, spoke about the challenges involved in dialogue with pilgrims in the cultural and religious environment of today. This talk was followed by a presentation by Prof Dr D. Carlos Gomez Iglesias, the theme of which was “Patterns for pastoral dialogue on the Camino”.

On Saturday morning, I was very taken by the talk given by His Excellency Sr. D Francisco Pérez González, Archbishop of Pamplona, entitled “He spoke to us while we walked the Camino”, the inspiration for which came from Luke 24:32, the story of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but who did not initially recognise that it was He who was walking along with them.

Among the other presentations which inspired me, were:

  • A talk given by Professor Marta Cendón Fernández, on “Reading the stories of the bible as depicted in the carvings of the churches and cathedrals along the caminos”;
  • A presentation given by Sr Marisol Soler, describing the albergue run by her
    (Benedictine) order, on the Camino Francés, where caminantes (camino walkers) are allowed to spend some “down time”;
  • A presentation given by Sr Ernestina Álvarez re pilgrimages along the Camino, organised by her (Sacred Heart) order, which include people from various major religions of the world, all walking together and sharing their wisdom and philosophies.

For me, the highlight of the all the presentations was a film made in 1952, a documentary
about some French pilgrims who walked to Santiago in that year. This was presented by Prof D. Domingo González Lopo, of the University of Santiago. It was he who had dubbed the French commentary into Spanish. The film showed life in northern Spain at that time, a wonderful piece of social history. As I watched I thought how recent 1952 had been from the Spanish civil war and that northern Spain was, at that time, trying to recover from the devastation delivered by that conflict. I also thought about how life had been then in our own country, Ireland, where rural life for example, and agricultural work were similar to that in Spain.

The language of the congress was Spanish and the majority of those attending were members of the clergy, both men and women, from Galicia. There were small groups from Portugal, France, Germany and Italy. There was no English spoken, either during the presentations or when people mixed socially, something I found amazing, considering how prevalent the English language is among caminantes. I felt it was an honour to have been asked to attend the congress, and if there was a lesson which I took away with me it was that, even though most caminantes do not realise it, the Church of Santiago, and the Spanish Catholic Church in general works on our behalf and does care a lot about the welfare, spiritual, emotional and physical, of those of us who decide to cross Spain on our way, for our own personal reasons, to the tomb of St James.

by Nóirín Uí Mhaolaoí