I chose to propose the text, below, because through testimonies certainly differents, I find the Way which I lived and the feelings which have and cross me.
pilgrimage on the routes of Santiago de Compostela
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Extract from Croire aujourd’hui n°83 of January 1st  2000
Gaële de la Brosse (GB), Co-founder and Chief Editor of the review Chemins d’étoiles.
Paul de Sinety (PS), Writer, author of l’amour des travelurs (Editions Balland, 1999) and of a movie on father Ceyrac.
Aymeric Magnan de Bellevue (AMB), Student in statistics and informatic, National team of the French Catholic student mission.

Ways of Pilgrimage

What is your experiment of the Pilgrimage ? Why did you get under way ?

AMB : I often went to Chartres, rather as organizer. Last year, I followed the road of Santiago de Compostela, from Le Puy to Santiago de Compostela. It took me 30 days. We were two, we left on bike, because I couldn’t walk. I had had the occasion to record a Mass of Saint James which a friend had composed. During this recording, one passed a slide show of two retired pilgrims, who made an approach of couple towards Santiago de Compostela. We were twenty to record, among whom seven or eight had already made this pilgrimage. Three among us then said : next year we left. One speaks about “ the call of Saint James ”. Why does one answer a call ? One does not know very well.
PS : In 1995-1996, I left on foot from Paris to Jerusalem. I walked alone for eight months. Jerusalem was at the beginning only a geographical point to reach. While walking, I realized that it was more than that, as it’s the place of died and of resurrection of Christ, on what I ground my faith. As for the reasons for which one leaves, I would also say that it’s to answer a call. I didn’t know which kind of call it acted. Today I distinguish better the direction of this way, but at the beginning, there was a kind of challenge, a will to confront himself to the world, to knock on the doors, to ask where to sleep, to live a poverty...
GB : Since I am fifteen years old, I go with various groups of young people on the roads. Thus we walked towards high places of spirituality : Rome, Assisi, Fatima. A summer, we started from Fatima to go towards Santiago de Compostela. We thus arrived by the South. I then felt a major shock. I knew that it was necessary that I take again the road of Saint James, but this time while going towards the west, towards the setting sun. And I started the following year, going with a group from Saint Jean Pied of Port to Santiago de Compostela (800 km). From this travel, I didn’t cease crossing the paths of Saint James. In 1991, I organized a Transeuropa in roller skates, from Santiago de Compostela to Czestochowa (4,000 km). At the beginning, the actors of this race-relay were sportsmen : on arrival, pilgrims. Three years ago, I also made the “ Tro Breiz ”, the round of Brittany by the seven bishoprics, to try out a circular way, and not a linear. I think that the orientation is very significant in displacement. The Path of Saint James moves towards the occident, where the sun dies. It thus invites us to strip the old man, to give up his “ old clothes ” to begin a new life. In a circular pilgrimage, one saw the walk in a very different way : one circumscribes a territory, one lives it. But one returns to the starting point. The pilgrimage of Saint James remains for me most extraordinary, because it’s worth by the way which one achieves before arriving : this path has as much importance than its result.

We are in an urban society, and you speak about the call of the road. Isn't this shifted compared to our ways of life ?

AMB : The road, it’s as well that of the beatnik who goes to Katmandu. The pilgrimage, it’s different, there is a spirituality which is anchored, a faith which is test. For me, that was like the command of a battle, of a testing period, which does not have anything of a vaguely esoteric search. The walk is very in today, even if that appears shifted.
PS : It’s a chance to be able to leave, to try, during a rather long time, to make the experiment of its limits, of the other which one meets, of the beauty of the world which one discovers, of the reference marks of the space and the time which change, of another rhythm.
GB : An historian of the pilgrimage said that the pilgrim of today “ hobbles along ” : he is in overhang towards the current society. And fortunately … because by this shift, the travel makes it possible to return to essential, to retie with its true dimension. The man is a peregrinus, i.e. etymologically a foreigner. To take the road enables him to cross this foreigner who is in him, and thus to meet itself. The travel helps him to live fully its gasoline of homo viator.

You would say that alienation, it’s the ordinary life, and that the true life, it’s the road ?

GB : I don’t think so. There is a reef to avoid, that to make the pilgrimage an escape. The hardest, as in any travel, is the return. It’s necessary to know to integrate the pilgrimage in the everyday life. The walk, paradoxically, can be a break in the life, a means of setting off again after.
AMB : The fact of leaving for one month, with only its bag, and of not knowing too much only where one will stop for the evening, brings into play a certain availability. One places oneself at the disposal of the road, and one can then place oneself at the disposal of God. I am not a large reader of the Bible. But there are things which always spoke to me, for example when Christ sends his disciples on mission in their saying : You will have only one stick. The pilgrimage is a single experiment, makes possible to live very concrete things of the Bible. That falls under a life. There is a side rather in bracket : one leaves all to leave. That can be an escape, that can make also possible to live more fully as one has to live after the return, because that makes it possible to be found toward oneself.

Which difference do you make between pilgrimage and hike, between pilgrimage and roaming ? Many people make hike today. As for the roaming, it’s also a figure of the life, and it’s not certain that it’s the same thing as the pilgrimage.

AMB : I met a couple of hikers, who were not catholic nor even “ spiritual ”, but which acknowledged a difference between the hike and the paths of Saint James. On these paths, the contacts which one has with people the evening are not the same ones. There is a search, other that in the hike. As for the roaming, the difference it’s that there is no goal, whereas in the pilgrimage, there is one.
GB : It’s a very current question in the pilgrimage of Saint James. Part of the path was marked out in GR., i.e. in path of “ great hike ”. I think that one should not oppose the hiker to the pilgrim : one can leaves as a sportsman and arrives as a pilgrim. However, there is a danger of spread. It’s for that that I like the term of “ itinering ” : one follows a route, with reference marks, and the path leaves the place to the roaming, with the search of the “ exiled ” human soul. But this roaming has a direction. The path worth by the goal, as the goal worth by the path.
PS : For me, the difference isn’t fundamental. The roaming is necessary, to seek and find the other. It’s the roaming of the Hebrews in the desert. The hike it’s the discovery of the beauty of the world. The pilgrimage combines these two aspects. All that is complementary. The essential, it’s the spiritual, being registered in a true search, a major search.

You started to speak about discovered about oneself. What would you like to add ?

PS : The discovery of oneself, it’s the very essential and radical discovery of its person. That makes a whole : the intellectual, the physical. The pilgrim who travels alone manages to discover little by little what he is through the tests, sufferings, joys that he meets. The pilgrimage brings into play several modes of relation : the dialogue with God, in the contemplation of the world, and the dialogue with the others. I realized at the end that God was present as well in the glance of those which lodged me as when I was alone on the road to walk. To be confronted with its limits, therefore, break-in a certain idealism. That makes humble.
GB : Instead of “ discovery ”, I would rather speak of transformation : it’s the fruit of the availability, of the detachment. An experiment that I often made on the road, it’s that of death. The Path of Saint James is a path of death and rebirth. The town of Santiago de Compostela was set up on old a compostum, a cemetery : it’s the sanctuary of the end of the earths, where one will seek his shell, which is the begging bowl for the last great travel. While walking, one carries also the soul of those which achieved this pilgrimage before us, and traced us the road. There is a pelerine solidarity, which transcends the time. Stripped of all, one can carry the luggage of essential.
AMB : There is indeed an intimacy which is created between pilgrims. In the discovery of oneself, I would insist on the loneliness, which isn’t easy. I am happy to have made the way of Santiago de Compostela on bike, because on bike, even when one is with others, one often rides alone. That allows the contemplation, the meditation. It’s also a school of humility : one rises the morning, patient, one must climbs hard coasts. What makes it possible to reach the top, it’s God, it’s the prayer. The “ jacquaires ” have a rosary, on bike one has ten fingers... I made the very strong experiment of my physical limit, in relation with God. The impression that without him, one could not arrive there.

There is a strong intensity of feeling, in the pilgrimage.

PS : It’s carried to paroxysm : desolation, consolation, to speak in jesuitic terms. There is no insipid moments. Except when one stops a few days : the insipidity returns, but with much softness.
GB : It’s true that time is exacerbated, whereas the pleasures and the sufferings which one tests are of the simplers : physical pains, loneliness, joy of the tended hand and the shared meals.
AMB : The insipidity returns quickly. It’s why few pilgrims are lingering in Santiago de Compostela : there are people everywhere, one rises the morning and one does not make any more his bag, one remains in a city to turn in round. The goal remains a goal - one is glad to arrive - but the place itself, one cannot remain there.
GB : Moreover Santiago de Compostela isn’t the goal. It’s necessary to go to Padrón, where the boat of the apostle would have accosted. It’s necessary to go to the sea.
PS : I would say in counterpoint that Jerusalem and the Holy Land is on the contrary places where one remains. In fact it’s places which were walked on by Christ, and it’s significant. That didn’t carry to me during my walk, but it was another wing of my pilgrimage.
AMB : The rallying cry of the “jacquaires”, it’s “ Ultreia ”, i.e. : “ go further ”. That summarizes all : a way of life, spirituality.

You spoke, Gaële, of the link to death, the old man who strips himself. You register your step in a catholic faith ?

GB : The first travels which I made were “ traditionals ” walks, with banners, canticles, vocal prayers... The pilgrimage towards Santiago de Compostela was a revelation for me, the training of a new fashion of peregrination. Not a negation of what I had lived before, but a deepening. It’s of course an event less punctual than the pilgrimage of Chartres, for example, which lasts only three days. But it’s especially a different path. The pilgrimage of Saint James accompanies all the life. This “ stars path ” isn't it the projection of the Milky Way on the ground, a reflection of this furrow of light in the sky ? It’s only the markers which guide us during the walk. Thus the pilgrimage was an enrichment of my Christian faith. But after Santiago de Compostela, when one arrives at the sea, there is nothing more, no more markers. All his making safe anchorings are lost. And there, one finds oneself in front of the Mystery. The pilgrimage is always a beginning of a new life in relation with God, much more intimate. A face to face : our mask falls.
PS : The path of Saint James is indeed well marked, while the path of Jerusalem isn’t it. Disorientated, I was walking towards the East. Each time, the unexpected one could emerge, I never knew where I was going to sleep the evening. I had to attach me to find God in all which could emerge. It’s on the contrary on arrival, in Holy Land, that markers are found. That led me to not see God distant or unreal, but on the contrary terribly real. One passes sometimes in sumptuous places, with formidable people, but one also passes in variegated humanity, and God in this humanity. It’s an experiment which I lived.
AMB : A good part of the pilgrimage is done the evening at the stage, in the meeting with different people, with whom one clashes sometimes. God, for me, it’s a fellow traveller. An incarnate god, who pains with me, who suffers the same constraints. The image of the pilgrims of Emmaüs. I had sometimes the physical impression while walking to have Jesus at my sides.

Today, how appears and how last what you lived ?

GB : If had to summarize this metamorphosis, I would employ the word of Providence. in the return, one feels accompanied. One lives then in a state of total disponibility. One has only the choice of “ yes ”. There is no more place for the chance : each event is ordered towards a goal and becomes significant, as in the pilgrimage where one walks towards a term, and where each stage germinates of the preceding one. The only thing which imports, it’s to make a success of this crossing, until the last passage. The road is a parable of the life.
AMB : There are winks every days, which support. When I read again what I lived in five years, I realize that my life is full of these winks, of these coincidences. What carries me today, it’s the rallying cry of the pilgrims, “ Ultreia ”, go further.
PS : What comes out from this experiment in my life, it’s creation, the risk, the projects. That pushes to create. It’s a dynamics. From a spiritual point of view, it’s for me a real presence of the Lord. Because I lived this pilgrimage in a radical way, alone, with this apprenticeship.
Talks collected by Paul Legavre, SJ