It was a sunshiny morning and the bread for our breakfast was already awaiting us on the table. It was David and Samuel, two young Redemptorists from Portugal, who had bought it from the nearest bakery. During this week we were 4 Portuguese volunteers willing to collaborate in the project of Christian Welcoming of the Way to Santiago at Casa San Alfonso in Astorga. As we were warming up, Father Antonio Danoz, a Redemptorist missionary, aged 90, showed up. He came to say good morning and sat at the table with us. Antonio has an experienced missionary vision and keeps reading life in the light of the Gospel. It is a privilege to be able to talk to him and above all to listen to him. He has the voice of a prophet!
After breakfast, and taking advantage of the good weather, we set some chairs in the courtyard of the house and did our morning prayer there. Together we gave thanks to our God, putting at the centre of our thoughts the One who makes Himself the Way for us. Thus we felt prepared to welcome the pilgrims who passed in front of our house heading Santiago de Compostela.
Time to go out and meet the pilgrims! We had to remember to bring the keys to the house, the pilgrim’s stamp, the bottles of water and fresh fruit that is always precious to those who walk in hot weather conditions. We set ourselves in our places and little by little pilgrims began to pass by. Some came to stay in town that night, others had set themselves to walk a few miles more. They were literally coming from every corner of the world. Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Many others from South Korea, Australia, Norway and China. There was no shortage of Americans, Canadians, Venezuelans and Brazilians. The whole world passes by. Members of all peoples are on their way, in search. During conversations that went on, while a glass of water was drunk or a piece of watermelon was eaten, we could see a little deeper than the tired face showed. Many pilgrims walk with open wounds hoping to heal them. Many lead a disoriented life and are looking for the North. There were a lot of pilgrims who came in thanksgiving for unexpected cures or because they overcame personal afflictions. There were those who were doing the Way in family so that they could tighten their bonds. If nationalities were abounded, the reasons for travelling the Santiago’s way were countless. But, after all, there is a fundamental identity with no distinctions: they all are Sons of the same God, the God of Jesus.
During the morning we stood there, receiving those who had just finished the climb to the city of Astorga, and listening to their thanks and blessings:
“You were the best thing that happened to me on the way,” – that’s what a boy on a bicycle told us.
“You can not imagine how good it was to be received so warmly by you!” – shared this woman, mother of three grown-up children, who decided to do the Way alone to escape the hallucinating pace of days, after surviving cancer.
“You do not want a donation?!” – it was the exclamation of surprise of the sweaty and tired man, who had probably been asked for money for some water on his way.
Exchanges like these are like a recurring chorus on a common morning of this project. So it became natural and inevitable that, echoing all this during lunch time, we volunteers would join in thanksgiving for the privilege of living all this.
During the afternoon we prepared all that was necessary for the moment of prayer at the end of the day: we made sure we had enough leaflets in more than 20 different languages, we translated some introductions to facilitate communion among all. We did it always in a relaxed and fraternal atmosphere.
At the end of the day, we opened the church door again and went out to meet the pilgrims again. We had been making the invitation for this moment of prayer at 8:30 pm every time we met someone at our post during the day. And now we saw some of the faces of the morning refreshed and invigorated. Pilgrims began showing up at around 8pm: some seeking God as a point of arrival and departure, and others not quite sure of what they were looking for. They entered hesitantly and felt touched when they realized that the yellow arrow given to them at the entrance was translated into their own language. Because when Jesus says, “I am the way,” He says it to all peoples, cultures, and nations.
Antonio, at a given point, joined us and double-checked our preparations. He was particularly keen in making sure everyone participating would feel comfortable, at home. The pilgrims continued to arrive. And if at first they were all scattered around the pews, it was not long before they all gathered in a circle, united in the same Way and in the same Light. Everyone was invited to say a personal prayer aloud, and that was one of the strongest and truest of the moments of the prayer. We all prayed in our own languages, which worked just as well as a form of communing with the pains and joys of the tears that streamed down the faces. We are all on our way!
In the end there were lots of warm embraces shared among all, which is the time of the prayer Antonio likes to call: “A training for the way!” And at that precise moment we all, somehow, managed to speak the same language at the same time. We shared generous farewell smiles and “Thank you” was pronounced in a great variety of sounds: Gracias, Merci, 감사, Obrigado, Grazie, Dzięki.
This is an open door church project. This is a project of hospitality. To be present and to welcome everyone. To the volunteers all that is asked is: willingness to collaborate with the Grace of God, the eternal side by side companion of all seekers. And to offer a glass of water to those who arrive.
We’ll see you around,
Zé ku Teresa