Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, FMS board member Patrick Martin shares an experience from his recent trip to Spain for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage.
On September 29, we started the day with remarkably little comfort and a great need for joy.
We were in the small village of Castrojeriz in northern Spain. Over the past 15 days we had walked 193 miles. We had more than 300 miles to go until we reached Santiago de Compostela, our final destination. But during the Camino, you can’t think about the 300 miles; you think about just today.
We were averaging about 13 miles a day. But this day, we needed to walk 16 miles, including the ascent of Alto de Mostelares, a sharp climb over the course of just one mile. Not too challenging, but we knew we needed an early start.
We left the refugio (refuge) and the other pilgrims around 6:00 am. It was still dark. As we walked through the town, we realized that there was nothing open for business at that hour. There was no place to eat breakfast and fuel up for the hike. At the edge of town, we stopped at the municipal refugio. Again, nothing was open but there was a picnic table and a street light. We sat down, opened our packs, and in the early chill of a late autumn day, we pulled out some stale bread and a can of sardines.
I was ready to gag. My wife suggested that we think of it as kippers on toast. Such a fiction exceeded my capacity for imagination. I choked it down with a sip of water, and we started to walk.
When we reached the base of Alto de Mostelares, I was in a foul mood, but the sun peeping over the horizon provided some hope that I might warm up. With a handful of pilgrims, we struggled to the top of the mountain. I knew that it would be another four miles to the nearest town with a café and I was in need of a little divine intervention.
And at the top of the hill, there he was. I’m sure that I’ve met an angel before, but this one was different. He had parked his beat up Peugeot at the top of the hill. In the trunk, he was brewing espresso on a camp stove. On the table in front of him were small cakes, croissants, fruit, and snacks. I asked him, “¿Cuánto cuesta?” He replied, “Es gratuito, peregrino. Buen Camino.” (It’s free, pilgrim. Have a good pilgrimage.)
I looked down the hill from where I came, and ahead towards the road stretching into the distance, and all I could say was, “Muchas gracias, mi hermano. Paz e bien.”
I would meet other angels along the Camino, but none provided such joy as the Angel of the Peugeot.
Question for reflection: Think back on your own journey and the times you’ve explicitly seen God’s hand. What form did your “Angel of the Peugeot” take?
Patrick Martin, OFS, is the vice president of Franciscan Mission Service’s board of directors. A Secular Franciscan, Patrick currently serves as the regional minister of St. Margaret Cortona region and is a member the St. Anthony of Nagasaki fraternity. In 2006 he left his position at American University to help open the archdiocesan Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, one of 25 schools across the country that serves the children of low income families exclusively with a college prep education and an innovative work/study program.