Viva Espana!

In honor of Spain’s recent victory, here’s a story from Saint Gregory’s senior class pilgrimage on the Camino di Santiago.

The senior class of St. Gregory’s Academy biked into Alba Franca, a town just before one of the steepest climbs through the mountains. Tired, wet, hungry, and penniless, Luke Culley led the lads to a hostel where he had previously found one of the five good faces of the earth. This was a privately-owned hostel, owned by a true Christian. This man had not only allowed the students to use the kitchen and sleep under a roof, for the customary fee of a juggling show; he had been so taken with the Saint Gregory’s spirit that also gave the boys food and good company for a night the year before. With the prospects of an old friend, warm food, and a dry place to sleep in front of them, the band arrived at the door of the hostel.

There, they met not the owner of the hostel, but two of his friends, workers at the hostel. One of them spoke English; the other didn’t. As Luke attempted to explain the situation (that they were poor pilgrims on the Camino, that he knew the owner, what they had been allowed in the past), it became apparent that the workers were uncomfortable at the prospect of allowing the ragged bunch into the hostel. ‘The owner can’t see you,’ they protested. ‘Just let me have a word with your boss,’ Luke said, ‘and that will clear everything up.’

But, the workers were obstinate. They even resorted to an old trick, hiding behind the language barrier. The English-speaking worker pretended that the Spanish speaker was really the one in charge, and thus neatly sidestepped any possibility of understanding the situation. ‘We cannot disturb the owner; he is too busy,’ he said, ‘you must go:’ and left the conversation. Meanwhile, the Spanish speaker side-stepped as well, insisting that he could understand nothing. He did, however, understand the words “Leave now!” and was surprised that the Americans had trouble with that order.

Disappointed, if only because of their high hopes, the students turned out into the wet. Luckily, they found a place to sleep just outside of Alba Franca. This wasn’t the nicest place. It was an abandoned nunnery, filled with old bones (at least one of which was human), old papers (there was a letter from the 19th century), and … yesterday’s newspaper? Fresh food in the kitchen? What was going on? Needless to say, the students bunched together in one room for the night, not wishing to spread themselves out, though the convent was very large. Luke asked, jesting, the next morning, whether anyone had been too afraid to leave the communal room to go to the bathroom late at night; a few students admitted ruefully their fear.

So, after a hearty breakfast of water, a vitamin pill, and doughnuts that were found in the convent kitchen (they weren’t from the 19th century), the students, colder, hungrier, and more down in spirits than the night before, climbed their steeds/bikes and began the arduous path up the steepest climb of their trip.

About ten kilometers out of town, a truck came up behind the stretched-out convoy of bikers. It is common (though rather impolite) for drivers to harass the convoy with their horns as they try to pass the large group of bikers on the narrow mountain roads. The man in this truck, however, outdid the others. Honking, waving his arms, shouting at them–really annoying. Everyone arrived at an overlook where they could pull over, take a break, and find out what the problem was with their follower.

The driver, as you might have guessed, was the owner of the hostel. After hearing from his workers how a group of jugglers had harassed the hostel the night before, the owner, distraught at his workers’ inhospitality, left the next morning, driving around town for an hour trying to find the students and apologize to them. I mentioned before that the hostel was privately owned, not involved with the tourism bureau. The owner took pride in the fact that he, being the owner, could extend hospitality to those who needed it, and was literally in tears from anger at his workers for having failed to practice the beatitudes. He personally spoke with and apologized to everyone in the group; Luke and co. assured him that they were not angry or put out at all; the students sang a few songs and juggled for a bit; the owner left; and the Camino continued.

The owner was not done with them, however. He had driven ahead to the nearest rest stop and bought the pilgrims plates of food–and not just the fare that characterizes the pilgrimage, the old standards bread and cheese: but plates of deli meats and hot quiches.

Considering that the owner’s name was Jesus, haven’t we heard this story before?

And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them.
Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased and said to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter into it.
And embracing them and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them. (Mk 10:13-16)

And, the Scripture passage that guided the pilgrims’ reflections:
Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knows that you have need of all these things.
Seek therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt 6:31-33)

These things added included good food, camaraderie, wine, cigarettes, candy, and café a leches on the Camino. It happened just like that, time and again. “Beauty will save the world,” says Elder Zossima; we are lucky to have so many beautiful people like Jesus (or, like Peter Kane) and beautiful places like Spain and SGA (or, like Old Mill).

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