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Pedrouzo, the Last Stop before Santiago!

Greetings from Pedrouzo, the last stop before Santiago! With mixed emotions I contemplate the end of this amazing experience. While it will be good to rest up after 730 km and over 1.2 million steps, ending the opportunities to engage with some extraordinary people will be a loss.

The more I have walked the more conscious I am that I have developed an almost hypnotizing rhythm of walking. It provides me with the opportunity to not have to think about what I’m doing, other than watching where I’m putting my feet, and to be present in the moment.

In that open space I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my life, particularly in the latter part of my recent 40 km walk a few days ago. From Sarria there were hundreds of pilgrims who joined for the last 100 km to Santiago. However, almost all of them walked for about 20 km to Palas de Rei and after I left Palas de Rei, there were no pilgrims at all, so I was by myself and walking through some beautiful bush. I took the opportunity to contemplate my life and name the people, alive and dead, who have influenced me to be the person I am today. From childhood, through growing up, to entering the Brothers, to the Brothers I have lived, worked with and known, to the many teachers and friends I have made in schools, when I was with the Catholic Education Office, at Bethlehem University, and in various parts of the world right through to this Camino, I remembered with gratitude. It was a wonderfully uplifting experience over two days, to take the time to focus on individuals while I was in this rhythm of walking. It made me more conscious of how blessed I’ve been, and in thanking people, it also gave me the opportunity to thank God for the many ways in which I have been blessed.

Some pilgrims I have spoken to have complained about how hard parts of the pilgrimage are, and that is true. Some hills we climbed seemed endless and some descents seemed to take forever! There have also been some extraordinarily beautiful landscapes and tree-lined groves that are quite breathtaking. As I reflected, I became aware that going up and down, feeling the pain and appreciating the beauty, is a good metaphor for our lives. Life is difficult at times and quite painful. But as Richard Rohr says, if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it!

I’ve learned to take one step at a time knowing that the hill has a top and the descent will cease, so this too will pass! Sometimes the climbs have been very difficult and I have struggled. Sometimes the descents were difficult or ground underneath my feet was uneven and unstable or painful to walk on. In being aware of the pain associated with that I began to ask at times: “Why am I doing this?” It was then I reminded myself that I am doing it to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. When I did that, as I did over and over, I realized my experience on the Camino is a walk in the park in comparison to what so many Palestinians are suffering. I then put my head down and continued to put one foot in front of the other, while walking in solidarity with those Palestinians who are suffering so much more than I.

Over the last five days I’ve had the chance to meet up with some people that I previously encountered, some from the first week or so but not seeing them again until now. I have come to see that there is a culture that develops among pilgrims, particularly those who have been on the road for some time, where there is sense of trust and a sense of community, a sense of looking out for one another, that I find quite inspiring. I think some of these people are going to be life-long friends. Others have been wonderful friends on the Camino and I doubt I’ll see them or connect with them again, but they’ve certainly helped make this Camino a memorable time for me.

There was a young Muslim woman from England, with whom I connected as I was coming out of a town some time back. She was fascinated by the banner on my backpack and so we spoke about Palestine and about Bethlehem University, probably for an hour or so. She took one of my cards, which has a QR code on the back that links to the Foundation website telling something about the project and about the walk I am doing. It also indicates how to donate. It just so happened she was one of the people that I came across in the last day or so. She was so excited to see me again and she indicated that both she and her mother have become significant donors to the project. This was an example of how the banner has led to conversation where I have had an opportunity to explain to people what is actually happening in Palestine and what Bethlehem University is doing there.

I’m very conscious that later this week this Camino will come to an end for me when I arrive in Santiago, 730 km from where I started. I have taken photographs of milestones as I passed. It was significant to see the 100 km to go and the feeling that this is quickly going to end! I have very, very mixed feelings about bringing this to an end because of the enriching opportunities I’ve had by engaging with people, the chance I have had to reflect by myself, the opportunities to pray and be aware of God‘s presence, God‘s love, and God‘s actions within me—all have been incredibly enriching. So, there is a certain sadness in bringing this to a close.

During my time on the Camino I’ve tried to not focus intently on what is happening at Bethlehem University; it’s no longer my responsibility. I am also conscious that I have been out of New Zealand and Australia for over 15 years and am aware of how out of touch I am. As such, I have not spent time wondering about what’s going to happen in the future. I’ve tried to “just be here” and open to what comes, the people encountered each day, and the joy and learning that unfolds. I want to develop that practice so that I can take it with me when I arrive back in New Zealand and Australia and be open to what might emerge next. In this practice on the Camino, I have been surprised by some occurrences that I probably would never have planned, and some that I initially found to be disappointing, but eventually turned out to be great blessings. It’s the openness to my experience that is, I believe the way in which God is revealing the path ahead for me. It is that faith that De La Salle talked about, that spirit which animated all he did. I would like that spirit to animate what I do!

Thanks again to all of you who have accompanied me on these more than 700 km since May 23. I really do appreciate your support for the Bethlehem University students who are in such need. I will be in touch again after I finish the last part of this Camino.

Best wishes and thanks.

Brother Peter