This summer, Instructor of Social Studies, Counselor and Lasallian-Vincentian Animator Bill Krueger completed a spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Along the way he found a sense of family with the community of pilgrims making the trek alongside him and his wife, Debie. He shared his experience with SHC faculty and staff this week.
by Bill Krueger
A few days after school finished in June, my wife, Debie, and I boarded a plane to London. After two days of travel, we arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port in the south of France, and the foot of the Pyrenees, to begin our trek to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino Frances.
Throughout the months of preparation leading up to these days, I experienced a vague feeling of familiarity, as if I had done something like this before. In our first days, as we climbed through the mountains and met other pilgrims, the feeling continued. We were guided along the Way by the ever-present flecha amarillas, the yellow arrows that pointed the way. Daily, after sleeping on bunkbeds in large dorm-like rooms, we would re-load our backpacks, our muchilas, bind up our feet, check for aches and pains, and set out on the road with numerous other pilgrims, distinguished by the scallop shell attached to their packs. The community that developed with so many was unexpected, but again familiar. They were people of all shapes, sizes, and age. Speaking languages both familiar and exotic, we would acknowledge one another with at least a hello, where are you from? And a Buen Camino.
As the days passed, we would see and greet others moving at a similar pace, and a ‘Camino Family’ began to form. Eventually this grew to a group of 8 of us who traveled together for the last several weeks. All the people we encountered whether local or pilgrim treated us with affection and care, as if we were one of the family. And we were.
Sometimes, we would attend a ‘Pilgrim Mass’ in the evening, and receive our special blessing. It was at one of these Masses, that the priest in Spanish was speaking. I could occasionally pick up a word or phrase, but one that stuck was “todo somos peregrinos,” a phrase he would repeat several times. He was saying that we were all pilgrims. What I finally realized was, what was so familiar, was that he was not talking only about those gathered in that medieval church, but us! Suddenly, it became clear! I HAD done this before because it is as if each school year is our pilgrimage! (Fran, we have completed 40 of them!)
We begin just as the peregrinos do at the foot of the mountain (today!). Looking up with excitement and some trepidation at the enormity of the task, and the year, ahead of us. But on we go, comforted that we are in it with others. We are guided not by yellow arrows, but by schedules of green and blue and white, hoping that they steer us in the right direction, and we do not get a phone call during lunch and have Dede gently remind us that ‘no, it is LOWER division lunch’ and our juniors are patiently waiting for us.
We will identify our fellow pilgrims, not from the scallop shell but from the shamrocks we wear on our clothing. Then, just as we are settled into a new routine, BOOM, we are faced with a steep ascent and descent, the Alto de Perdon, with its windmill farm and giant steel pilgrim monuments. Here we would call that the ‘Walkathon.’
Then we pass through the glorious days of the fall, as we would through the farms and vineyards near the great cathedral cities of Burgos and Leon, our Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we take a well-deserved rest. Then rejuvenated we begin the long haul through our Meseta. With long days of walking through field after field of wheat, barley, oats, and corn, so much it is hard to believe that anyone is hungry anywhere in the world. Days that sometime feel like weeks, with nothing on the horizon. But we survive our Lent and end at the 500-year-old Benedictine Abbey in Samos, and find our Easter.
Renewed, we are joined for the last rush toward Santiago, when the days gather speed. We climb the one last hill … Monte del Gozo, literally, the Mountain of Joy where we catch our first glimpse of Santiago. And then we, too, will gather, not once but twice, in the plaza in from of the great Cathedral, as pilgrims have done for a millennia not in Santiago but here in San Francisco at Baccalaureate Mass and Graduation, to welcome our seniors, pilgrims who have traveled four years to that place. What a joyous celebration it will be!
We will end with our freshmen, sophomore and junior pilgrims and gently lay down our human cargo, one last time, before going our separate ways. I would like to thank my Camino mentor, Jon Compton, who also finished his Camino this summer.
There are many stories from the Camino, as there will be stories from this year. But it will be the people we most remember: people of humility, grace, and helpfulness, as we are when we are at our best. So, my fellow peregrinos, I will pray the pilgrim’s blessing …that through the intercession of St. James … that he ‘be for you a companion on the road; a guide at the crossroads; breath in fatigue, defense in the dangers, shelter along the way; a gentle breeze in the heat, shelter before the cold, light in the darkness, consolation in disappointment, and firmness in your purposes, so that, with your guide, you arrive unharmed at the end of this pilgrimage, and enriched in thanksgiving and virtues, and you return safely to your homes full of perennial joy. And to that I will add my own prayers, and for this year, a heartfelt “Buen Camino!”
Live, Jesus, in our hearts … Forever!