We walked today under cloudy skies with occasional mists of rain, and feeling more energetic after having had a longer time to relax and rest after our shorter walk yesterday. Today was another 9 or 10 miles from Melide to Arzua, and it began with a real blessing, as just a short distance from our hotel we encountered our first open chapel, where we were able to obtain our first stamps on our Camino passports from a church. We had encountered a number of churches on the way, of course, but none so far had been open. We were able to enter this small church, obtain our stamp, light candles, and take a moment to reflect in an intentionally sacred space. A few of our party were moved to sing a bit in the marvelous acoustics of this small space. We left happy to have gotten our first church stamp, but it was not to be our last. A short distance later, we came across another open church, and the attendant was able to tell us a bit about the place. It had been a site for pre-Christian Celtic worship before a church was built for Christian worship. The church had a baptismal font dating from the 11th century, and frescoes dating from the 14th century. Later on in the day, we came across a third open church, dating from only 1826 — rather recent by European standards. This meant three church stamps in one day, after three days without a one.
In the course of our walk today, we encountered an unusual man who had taken up a spot in a forest, where he was giving a pilgrim stamp and a small wax stamp. He had a prosthetic leg, the result of a train accident. He told us about how he had gone all around the world on his bicycle. He made quite an impression on the group.
Later, we came a cross a group of young people from Belgium. They were volunteers who were escorting a group of disabled young people along the Camino. Many of them were unable to walk, and so the volunteers would push them in special chairs equipped with something like bike tires over the Camino. One volunteer spoke excellent English, and had recently visited the Bay Area. He explained that the group got up at 6 am, got their young charges ready, and set out to cover 10 to 15 kilometers by late afternoon. Then they would stop for the day and help their people get changed, eat, and finally to bed. The volunteers would finally have some time to themselves, and to build community with each other, from about 11 pm to 1 am, then get 5 hours of sleep before starting all over again. We were all touched by their commitment, and the beauty of their selflessness.
This helped me to reflect today on the ways in which we hold each other as we walk through life. If the Camino represents the spiritual path that all of us are on, these young Belgians are a powerful symbol of the fact that none of us walks that path alone–there are others who hold us in various ways along the way. And this, in turn, is a reminder of the way in which God holds us all.
Our reflections on the day, for the first time, included almost no mention of the physical challenges of the Camino, but rather on the ways in which the Camino was deepening each of us in unexpected ways. The Camino has certainly worked its way into our bodies, and is working its way into our hearts and souls.
We are now only about 23 miles from Santiago, which we will walk over the next two days. Our goal is ever closer, but our journey is hardly over.