Camino Companions is an FCJ project in Santiago de Compostela to offer pilgrims a space to articulate and find meaning at the end of their Camino. One of the project volunteers, Ann, from Manchester, England, reflects on her experience of welcoming pilgrims in Santiago.
I decided to volunteer as a Camino Companion because I like Spain, have walked the Camino and I know Sr Alicia fcJ needed people to assist. So, I volunteered without fully knowing what the two weeks would be like.
The rhythm of the day was that we set up for Mass in the morning, invited pilgrims to come for a cuppa upstairs afterwards, we had lunch and then, in the afternoon, ‘hovered’ in order to hear English speakers and invite them for a drink should they wish to…
The mass at 10.30am was the first opportunity for the pilgrims (I was there in April and there were, on average, 10 in the congregation) to introduce themselves and where they had walked from. There was a point in the mass when they were invited to light a candle for those they wished to pray for. By the end, therefore, there was a sense of being together and so, usually, the ‘congregation’ would come upstairs for a cup of tea/coffee and a biscuit.
They sat in a circle and chatted. We asked them to share what they would take away from their Camino, should they wish to. At this point, there was often a shift in the atmosphere, from one of general chatter and liveliness to one of reflection and pondering. This, for me, was often a special moment when they realized they had been on more than a walk in the countryside. By far the largest sentiment they expressed was one of appreciating the kindness and openness of strangers along their journey. The small acts of generosity and friendliness had touched them.
There were moving accounts of people they were walking for, perhaps a deceased family member and of situations they were trying to resolve in their lives in the silence of the walking. There were others who had come for the walk but had gained much more than that. Sometimes it was difficult to put into words just exactly what that was.
To be a witness to the pilgrims’ stories was a privilege and, as with much volunteering, I felt I gained more than I offered. Although I had not, on this occasion, walked the Camino, I felt I had been assisted on my faith journey as I had assisted others on theirs.
I am hoping to volunteer again in 2023.
Photo: Camino Companions volunteers Ann (left), Alicia fcJ and Lydia, with blue t-shirts, with a of pilgrims – a reunion of university friends from Malaysia and Europe who walked the Camino together.