Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Ready to go

Many months ago when I set Le Puy en Velay as the starting point for my pilgrimage I was clear that it should begin on the Feast of the Assumption. There were two reasons for this: one of the earliest known pilgrimages to Santiago was that undertaken by the Bishop of Le Puy -Godesalc-who completed his pilgrimage in the first half of the 10th century. This established Le Puy as an ancient pilgrimage centre under the protection of Mary the Mother of God.
The second reason was more personal. One characteristic of my late father was his devotion to Our Lady and, from the outset, I saw the pilgrimage as a tribute both to his memory and to the profound influence that he has had on me.
My original intention was to attend the Pilgrims Mass at 7.00 am on the 15th and then to start walking. My first night in Le Puy gave me a rude awakening to one of the hazards of the Camino,namely snorers! A disturbed night's sleep saw me awake long before 6.00am on August 14th . On a clear morning I made my way up the hill to the Cathedral. By 7.00am there must have been more than 60 pilgrims as well as the religious community . Bishop Brincard personally presided at the mass and gave a thoughtful homily. Even more remarkably, after the Mass, he assembled all of the Pilgrims around the statue of St James. For more than half an hour he spoke at length about the spirituality of the Camino. (It struck me as an object lesson as to how a Bishop should exercise his pastoral ministry). Referring to the Camino as 'the first long distance path in Europe', the Bishop also made the extraordinary claim that the Camino 'gave Europe its heart'.
He challenged us to see our enterprise in the 21st century as a way of giving Europe new heart by eschewing the values of consumerism and secularism. It was an exhortation which I would return to many times in the subsequent days. The Bishop personally blessed each pilgrim and offered us a 'friendship medal' to carry on our way. We were also invited to carry the petitions of those who had visited the Cathedral.

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