The New Year has arrived and so did the highly anticipated Holy Year, Xacobeo 2021. But it didn’t arrive alone. With it came another quarantine, border closings in all the townships of Galicia, and the impossibility to enter or stay in Santiago. There are hardly any pilgrims on the Camino.
Based on the 1,188 pilgrims that arrived in January of Xacobeo 2010 to the 1,999 that did the Camino the same month in 2020, all signs indicated that the beginning of this year’s Holy Year would see more than 2,000 pilgrims arriving. Nevertheless, only 60 fortunate souls arrived to Santiago in January, according to the Pilgrims Office. Clearly, 2021 has not begun as we expected (without making any mention of political, economical or ecological issues that we are all experiencing as a global community)!
Are we able to say Ultreia?*
Probably your plans are also different than what you had imagined. Perhaps you thought about doing the Camino this year but you weren’t able –or will not be able- to get to Spain. Maybe you have lost a loved one in this pandemic, or something has changed with your finances, family or work situation. Maybe you are suffering from anxiety, or loneliness is having an impact on your health.
Are we able to have hope?
A lot of times we talk about the Camino as being a metaphor for life. And in a certain way, this year, the metaphor is in reverse. What we are living right now as a society has become a metaphor for the Camino.
When we are pilgrims, we are constantly exposed to the uncertainties, the unexpected…We don’t know where we will sleep, what companions of the Camino we are going to meet, what terrain we will cross, the views we will see, the weather we must endure, where or what we will eat, neither the adventures nor the misfortunes we will have…And even though we could have the best weather app, the best guide for the Camino, have our entire itinerary reserved and we could predict with confidence exactly how all of these things will go, we really aren’t able to guarantee with total certainty that everything will happen the way we planned. We don’t have the control over any of these circumstances, and in this, the Camino shows us our own limitations and our humanity. Something can happen, and suddenly those plans change: a sprained ankle, a lost item, a closed pilgrims hostel, a snowstorm, the lack of water or food, the dreaded bed bugs…Or simply an encounter with our true selves and our most intimate thoughts and fears…
At the same time, as pilgrims, we are also exposed to the wonder, to the beauty and to the surprise. For the exact same reasons mentioned above. Because we don’t know what we will find, how it will go, or what type of personal transformation we will experience as a result of the Camino (whether we arrive at our destination or on the fly we need to recalculate). Something can happen and suddenly plans change: a friend on the way helps us to believe in humanity again; a nice hospitalera encourages us to forgive, to let go or to find ourselves…a sunset reconnects us with the supernatural…or the backpack teaches us what really is of value.
Are we able to have hope?
We believe so, even though we don’t know with certainty how this year will go. We have everything we need to take the next step.
«Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all the shadows away.»– Henri Nouwen
Perhaps the next step would be to remind ourselves our condition as pilgrims, wherever we find ourselves now. If the Camino has taught us something, it is that this begins when we arrive to Santiago. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the things that truly matter are in our hearts, and in our homes. Therefore, it is possible to live like pilgrims even in times of Covid. Even if we can’t set our feet to pilgrimage, our hearts surely can.
As it says in the ancient song:
We can say Ultreia! Et Suseia.
*Formerly, a greeting among pilgrims was «Ultreia, suseia, Santiago» [meaning ‘keep going, Santiago is beyond’]. When a pilgrim greeted another saying «Ultreia» [keep going] the other one responded with «Et suseia!» [and beyond!]. Nowadays, people greet with «Buen Camino».
P.S.: If you haven’t seen it already, we invite you to look at the official video of Xacobeo 2021.