A Camino Postcard: St. Jean Pied de Port

Today was my designated acclimatisation day before the big walk over the Pyrenees tomorrow. It has felt, however, a bit of a nothing Day: as beautiful as St. Jean Pied de Port is, I want to be on the road, pushing on step-by-step to Roncesvalles and Santiago de Compostela. As a result, my wandering around town took me only up and down the citadel (the down part being the descent of muddy and slippery steps) and to sundry benches where I stopped to listen to some music and write. I wrote a few notes for the Fixxbook. This was a mistake as it accentuated my Nothing Day blues. Tomorrow, I’ll leave at 6-6:30am. The pilgrims’ office said the Napoleon route will be unsafe due to the weather so I’ll take the Valcarlos. It won’t be spectacular but it will be safer.

I must break my one paragraph rule here to acknowledge the fact that today is the 55th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death. As a man he had a lot to object to but he knew this and daughter God’s help. As a writer, he gave the world some beautiful and hilarious stories for which we owe him a great dent of thanks – EW: Requiescat in Pace.

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A Camino Postcard: London to St. Jean Pied de Port

Yesterday, I left home just after 3:30am in the morning to begin a journey that would take until mid-afternoon to complete. From London to Saint Jean Pied to Port in southern France: I was really doing it! Except for one incident when we had to get off the Stanstead express because of an ‘incident; on the track, the journey was a seamless one. The only moments I didn’t like was whoever the aeroplane banked steeply – it felt like falling. I have a strange calm in aeroplanes, though, for whatever happens is completely out of my control so there is even less point than normal in panicking. Other highlights were drinking a beer at 8am at the airport and seeing armed French soldiers at Bayonne train station. After arriving in Saint Jean, I took a quick look around before returning to my hotel to catch up in my sleep.

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Camino Prep Update

One week today I hope to have just arrived in Roncesvalles or be very close by!

How is my preparation going?

It is pretty much complete. I now have my travel insurance; I have ordered my euros from the bank (to be collected tomorrow); I was going to take £300 worth but settled for £200. I don’t want to have too much money on me at any given time just in case the worst happens and it is stolen. One or two toiletries aside – which can wait until Saint Jean – I have bought everything that I’ll need.

Medical Matters
I am pleased to report that I have not experienced any more flashing in my right eye since the episode a week last Monday. I would be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t nervous about the possibility of it happening in France or Spain and then having to go to the nearest hospital to get it checked out. And what do I do if it happens next Monday night or Tuesday morning? I shouldn’t worry about this; it serves no purpose and makes me needlessly anxious but unfortunately, me being me, I find it hard to let go.

Also, I had to go to see my G.P. a couple of days ago. As I suspected, the problem I had turned out to be a non-serious one but I was determined to go Just In Case. I’m glad I did; I’m determined to be responsible about my health: I don’t want to be the kind of man who pushes health issues to one side and then gets really ill. If it happens even though I tried to do something about it, that’s okay, but not otherwise.

I have spent more than I should have these last few weeks. Oh dear. The upshot is that I will have £1500 to last the Camino and get me home. That’s £200 less than I really should have. As my predicted spend is £1050, it still should be plenty enough, though.

What’s Left To Do?
Guess who hasn’t quite managed to learn any Spanish… gulp
Guess who hasn’t yet planned his daily route… still time

As I will be leaving London in the early hours, I should probably see if I can buy my Stansted Express ticket in advance. By the way, I thought I had to go to Victoria Station to pick up the Express but my friend M. told me it leaves from Liverpool Street. I dodged a bullet there even if my friend laughed at me!

Also, before I leave, I need to let one of my sisters know my laptop password just in case the very worst (or best given the shape of the world happens) and I die abroad. Of course I hope it doesn’t happen and I’m sure the odds are very much in my favour but if it did I would like my family to be able to have access to my laptop so they can close e-mail and social media accounts, etc.

Finally, I leave on 9th April, if the political worst happens, Britain will leave the E.U. with ‘No Deal’ on Friday, 12th April. It doesn’t look like that will happen, and I am glad. I wish Theresa May hadn’t asked Jeremy Corbyn’s help but if her own party refuses to support her, what else could she have done?


Better Late Than Never, I Hope
Two weeks ago, when I wrote this post about confessions aka the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I mentioned that I had more to say and would try to say it later in the week.

Unfortunately, I now can’t remember what I meant to say! I think I wanted to write some more about my experience of going to confession so let’s do that here.

Seat & Seatability
I’ll start with my visit to Westminster Cathedral today for confessions. I arrived at about midday – confessions began at 11:30am and as it was quite early and today is not a particularly special day in the Church’s calendar, I expected the queue to be quite short. Wrong! There are seats for about thirty or so and every one of them was taken; for the first few minutes of waiting, I had to stand up.

Actually, this was not because not every seat was being used: as penitents head into the confessional, those waiting have a habit of not moving forward to the next seat. It can often happen, therefore, and in fact, invariably does, that at some point you end up moving forward several seats in a one go. This happened today.

With that said, there were still a substantial number of people waiting – 20 at least. In my previous post, I called confessions the Cinderella sacrament, and in the wider Church perhaps it is, but there is definitely a sub-section of Catholics who hold to it. And they are not the older generation, either. Today, I saw one woman who can only have been in her twenties.

Finding Her Way Home
Because of the numbers of people waiting, a second priest arrived. He took the confessional box furthest away from us. If you know Westminster Cathedral, it was the one closest to the Lady Chapel. The woman I mentioned a second ago had to make her way up to him and, if she knew the Cathedral, was obviously not familiar with this confessional. She first headed towards the empty one to the immediate right of where the priest was sitting. He popped his head out of his box to let her know where to go. Except, she couldn’t seem to see where to kneel (from where she was standing perhaps it was just out of her sight) and needed further directions. The poor thing – I hope she wasn’t too flustered.

A Showdown
The worst thing ever to happen to me while waiting in the queue for confessions – apart from the occasion I had to listen to an extra loud penitent make theirs – was witnessing a woman leave the queue to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist at Mass. That wasn’t the problem. The problem came when she returned to her seat and was quietly challenged on what she had done by the man sitting in the seat to her right. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I could certainly hear the woman’s indignant response. People arguing in the queue for confessions is one of those things that really ought not to happen so it all felt very awkward.

My view is that the man was certainly out of order. What the woman did was between her and God. And if he challenged her because he assumed that she was in a state of mortal sin, that too was wrong. Yes, that is one reason for going to confession but it is not the only one. One may also go because one has committed only venial sins as well. With that said, what she said did not look good. It makes one think, hold on, you’re going to communion even though you are aware of sins that you need to confess? But this is my problem to overcome, not hers to take account of.

An Unexpected Gift
On a happier note, after I made my confession today, the priest gave me a miraculous medal! He popped the medal through the grill and handed me an explanatory leaflet over the partition that separates the priest from penitent. I had thought that it was a wall that separated us but it turns out there is a little gap at the top. Anyway, I’m quite chuffed with this gift and it will certainly be coming with me to the Camino.

A Little Laugh
I converted to the Catholic Faith when I was at university in Dundee. In those days, I went to confessions at Dundee cathedral. The Parish Priest there was also the university Catholic chaplain. This meant we could, if we wanted, talk freely after the end of the confession. On one occasion, I went after England had beaten Scotland in the then Five Nations. After saying my confession I took advantage of our friendship and asked the priest if it was a sin to enjoy England’s win. It was, I admit, a You Had To Be There moment but we had a good laugh over it.

I finished my confession today at the same moment as communion was being held for the 12:30pm Mass, so I joined that queue straight away. I rarely finish my confession at this precise moment so it felt quite odd doing so. In fact, I wondered to myself if I should sit down to say my penitential prayer first. I was very unsure and therefore discombobulated; this is why after receiving Our Lord from one of the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist I forgot that the Cathedral doesn’t distribute communion under both kinds and went to the second Extraordinary Minister. I realised my mistake at exactly the moment as she did and put her hand over the ciborium. Oops!

By the way, the usual penitential prayer is, of course, x number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys. Today, the priest asked me to say the Divine Mercy prayer. I know about the Divine Mercy but not the prayer so if I had sat down to say it… I wouldn’t have been able to; not unless I got my phone out to google it, and that was not going to happen. There would have been nothing wrong with doing so, but I wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself that way.

As it happens, I clean forgot to say the Divine Mercy prayer when I got home and only remembered when I wrote the above, so let me draw this post to an end and go and say it!