Way to Santiago #3: Are you pilgrims?

[Original italian version by Claudia Agrestino]

One of the things that mostly scare those who decide to leave for Santiago is feeling like you don’t belong there, not knowing how to act or the fact that you don’t know if you’ll manage to live this experience in the right way, apart from the fear for blisters, tendinitises, pain or the risk of sleeping outside or fainting in the middle of the route because of tiredness. The one who starts this walk will look for a sense of belonging from the beginning, will want to understand how to face it, who he will be meeting and who he will become.

Before leaving you are supposed to get a Credencial, a sort of official pilgrims’ passport, where you can collect the stamps of the albergues and not only (you can usually get the stamps in stores, churches, pilgrim’s offices and councils), that has to be presented once you get to Santiago in order to receive the Compostela, the certificate of completed pilgrimage. You even should better request for the Credencial several months before your departure, because it is sent by the St. Jacopo Confraternity, in Perugia, and it needs to be ordered through one of the associations that are allowed to do so, that can be easily found on the internet, according to where you leave. So, there are written documents that state that you are a pilgrim. But… is this enough to feel like a real one? There isn’t a unique answer to this question, but surely everyone lives the so-called “epiphany” during his way, by which he realizes that he’s in the right place at the right time. It happened to me right at the beginning of my travel, when, during the one day pause in the first stop in Leòn, I felt a strong sense of belonging, in an unexpected way.

9 o’clock pm, after dinner, a terrible exhaustion and a strong need to go to sleep due to the early alarm set for the next day. We’re about to finally enter the albergue when a small old nun with an incredible authority stops us and asks us a question that leaves us speechless for a moment: «Are you pilgrims?». Caught by surprise, at first we smiled thinking of the rethorical sense of that question: obviously, being there at the moment, we had to be. But soon after I would have understood that the meaning of that question was deeper than what I could have ever imagined. Our answer was obviously “yes”, even if a doubtful kind of yes, and she took us, litterally took, and led us to a little door through which you got to the chapel hall. There stood a small group of pilgrims, like us, (very few actually considering the quantity of people that was staying in that place), of different nationalities, in a quiet atmosphere and a general confusion. Finally, after some minutes spent in a shy silence with people mumbling in curiosity due to that strange situation, the reveal: we would have took part in the nuns’ evening prayer, the pilgrim’s prayer, greeting and benedition to start the next day in the best way. It was an extremely brief moment, not more than 15 minutes, but enough intense to move me. People declaiming salms and prayers in their own language, a linguistic Babel that, in another context, would have been a little ridiculous, but there, in that specific moment, gave you goosebumps. All together, one next to the other, strangers, believers and atheists, declaiming the complain together with some nuns. The first moment in which I felt a strong sense of belonging, and I felt as a pilgrim. Even if I wasn’t wearing worn out clothes, broken sandals, even if I had a backpack, probably too big and too full of useless stuff (that I abandoned while walking); even without sentiments of faith or a real awareness about the reason of my travel. There I understood that, in order to be a pilgrim, you have to warm and set up just one fundamental thing, the only one that even when there’s lack of everything else is able to give authenticity to the Camino: your own heart.

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