In the summer of 1996, I became interested in Catholicism. After returning to Dundee for my second year at university, I developed that interest further by attending the student Catholic Society. My reading continued, and in the course of it, I learnt about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the “panzer kardinal” who headed the Catholic Church’s fearsome Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
In due course – Easter, 1997, to be exact – I was received into the Church. Before long, I was helping to serve at Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. One day, I was in the sacristy with the diocese’s then Bishop, Vincent Logan. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject, but I must have told him I had been reading about Ratzinger, and that he sounded like a scary man. The bishop smiled and said words to the effect that the cardinal’s reputation was ill deserved. He’s a very gentle man, he said, very kind. This stuck with me, and so I was not surprised when I read similar sentiments after Ratzinger became Benedict XVI in 2005.
Benedict resigned from the papacy in 2013 but thanks to many of his actions was pope, my reading of earlier years, Bishop Vincent’s comments, and those of other people, he never disappeared from my consciousness. Thus, when his death was announced yesterday morning, I was not surprised, but I was sad. It’s a funny thing to be sad about the death of someone you have never met, and never would had he lived to be five hundred, but I was and remain sad at the fact that he is no longer with us. I think it’s because Benedict, simply by his being alive, was a rock (pun intended) on which we Catholics could tie our faith.
That’s a funny thing, too, because I by no means agree with everything Benedict did, either as pope or as Cardinal Ratzinger. I think his opposition to Liberation Theology was exactly right, as was his decision to grant freer access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but regret his classification of homosexuality (in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) as an intrinsic disorder, and failure to ask more questions about what it means to love, how to love, and be loved. I believe the Church is on a journey here, one that will see future popes (perhaps having started already with Pope Francis) coming to understand that men who love men, or women who love women, are also acting in accordance with God’s plan, rather than deviating from it.
So, I didn’t agree with Benedict about everything, and he did make mistakes over the years. But that’s life. The important thing is that he tried. He had his eyes on Jesus all the time, and he tried. I have no doubt that when he fell over, he got up, returned his gaze to the Lord once again, and continued walking. For that reason, he was holy. One day, I hope this will be recognised and that he will be declared a Saint. For my part, I’m not going to wait for the declaration to be made. I’m going to start asking him for his intercession now.
The Good On Sunday, 13th October Pope Francis canonised John Henry Newman. Newman and I go way back. In the summer of 1996 I became interested in the Catholic Church. Don’t ask why – apart from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I don’t know. That October, I returned to university and started attending the Catholic Society. By January 1997, I knew that God was calling me to His Church. So, I approached the Catholic chaplain and asked to receive instruction. He handed me over to a lady who immediately asked if I had heard of Newman. I hadn’t. She recommended I read his autobiography – Apologia Pro Vita Sua; I did and loved him ever after. Around the turn of the century, when I was – predictably for a still fairly new Catholic – exploring my vocation, I made a few visits to the Birmingham Oratory. There, I saw Newman’s unchanged study and some of his papers, which were then stored only in boxes.
As the years passed, I drifted away from Newman but we met again in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in Birmingham. Guess what happened after 2010; yes, I drifted away from him again, only to be pulled back when word of his second miracle reached me. What pulled me back? God’s golden thread made manifest in the love he has given me for Newman’s writings and example of holiness. It was such a joy seeing Newman being declared a saint, I can only hope that I never drift away from him again.
The Bad The Vatican wouldn’t be the Vatican without a scandal of some sort attaching itself to the Holy See. Over the past few years the clerical sex abuse scandal has dominated but today I read about another, older, scandal rearing its head again – that involving money. The Times reports that the Vatican is losing money hand over fist due to bad management.
What is to be done? Who knows. Who only knows. It’s the Vatican so I feel like saying ‘Nothing’. Isn’t that sad? It’s more than sad, it’s awful. If anyone in authority thinks like that, it means the bad guys have won; it means the Bad Guy himself, Satan, has won. We can’t have that. We know he has already lost the war; we – or rather, the people who have power in the Church – need to do everything they can to make sure he loses the battles, or at least as many of them as possible, as well. But how? If Pope Benedict couldn’t do it; if Pope Francis can’t do it, who can?
The Ugly The Vatican is currently hosting a ‘Synod of Bishops for the pan-Amazonian region’ in South America. It’s purpose is ‘to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region’ (These two quotations are from the Synod’s Wikipedia entry here).
The Synod started with a ceremony which included some of the delegates from the pan-Amazon region bowing down, paying homage, to wooden statue of a pregnant woman, apparently a symbol of Mother Earth. So far so veering towards paganism. It wasn’t, though, the first controversial moment of the event. Before it started, traditionalist cardinals, such as Raymond Burke, were warning that the working document promoted apostasy (see the Wikipedia link).
I have been reading about the Synod from a fair distance and I believe the Synod Fathers and delegates have been discussing the possibility of having married priests in the region, and perhaps even female deacons.
The possibility of married priests doesn’t alarm me in the slightest; that Catholic priests should be celibate is a Church discipline, not a doctrine derived from Our Lord. My only question would be how such families would be paid for (and could a divorced man continue to be a priest?). I wouldn’t even be averse to female deacons if it could be proved that they were permitted by the Early Church. Here, I would be concerned that progressives would take the matter too far and, having ‘won’ the argument on a female deaconate, try to bring about female priests, for which Scripture and Tradition provide no justification.
What is ugly about all this? Everything and nothing. If the Church gets it wrong at this Synod, goodness knows what damage she will cause for herself in the future. If she gets it right, all will be well. Either way, I, and we Catholics in general, need to get praying: Anything to stop this kind of thing:
The kairos, the culture of encounter, being lauded in the Pan-Amazon Synod is a Bergoglian kairos and culture. The church “called to be ever more synodal,” to be “made flesh” and “incarnated” in existing cultures, is a Bergoglian church. And this church, not to put too fine a point on it, is not the Catholic Church. It is a false church. It is a self-divinizing church.
If we don’t believe in a Catholic Church that is protected by the Holy Spirit from ultimate destruction then we are simply not Catholics and it is not the ‘Bergoglian church’ that has the problem. I’m being a bit annoyed here; my point is that of course a pope can slip into heresy but he would not be able to take the Church with him. The gates of hell…, remember. The above writer seems to have forgotten this and it both annoys and grieves me.
20-23.5.19 Arrival Since writing yesterday’s post, it has been brought to my attention that I forgot to write about the most important thing of all – the fact that in Finisterre Ellena made a lovely soup for the three of us. It took her several hours and a lot of ingredients but she did it, and we were all very grateful!
After we arrived in Santiago, Ellena and Carolin decided to rest as soon as we found our apartment. I went into town to buy some food and take a few photographs.
The Pilgrims’ Office First thing on Tuesday morning, we walked over to the Pilgrims’ Office. We still had to queue but not for two hours, which was a relief. While we waited, though, I wondered if the Pilgrims’ Office would give us a compostela; or would they say Nah, mate – you took a taxi on the last 100K? I am happy to report that they didn’t even ask if we had taken a taxi and that we did each receive our compostelas. Ellena and Carolin also bought the extra certificate that told them how many kilometres they had walked from Saint Jean.
After leaving the Pilgrims’ Office, we stopped at a nearby café where we got talking to a friendly Australian (or was he American? I can’t remember now). Upon a moment, our friend Colleen walked by! I was so happy to see her – she saved my Camino on Day 1 so to see her at the end was a great joy, and very apposite. Colleen told us that a Franciscan church down the road also issued compostelas to pilgrims so after finishing our drinks, we toddled along there, knocked on the day of the sacristy and met a friar who did the necessary for us.
The Cathedral From the Franciscan church we went to the pilgrim church itself: Santiago cathedral. Unfortunately, it is currently undergoing refurbishment so we were unable to attend Mass there and see the famous Botafumeiro (giant thurible) in action. As you can see from the photograph below, the latter was all wrapped up during our visit to protect it during the refurb.
The scaffolding was so extensive that it was hard to see the inside of the cathedral as much more than a very old and elegant building site. The place was not without meaning, though. For example, I saw my two favourite popes.
In case you don’t know who they are, that’s Benedict XVI waving his hand and John Paul II with the staff. JPII is now a canonised saint; I fully expect Benedict to be declared so after his death and shall be very disappointed if both aren’t declared Doctors of the Church one day; though that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.
Most importantly, we also saw the bones of St. James himself.
Are they really his bones? Sure, why not; no, very unlikely; who cares? To even be concerned as to whether they are or aren’t misses the point – Santiago Cathedral is not a sacred space because his bones are there but because of what he did and why. Ultimately, though we walk with and because of St. James, the purpose of our pilgrimage is Jesus Christ, and it is He who hallows the cathedral with His Presence.
One thing we didn’t do at the cathedral is enter it through the Portico of Glory – its gates were closed (on account of the scaffolding inside) – so we were unable to fall to our knees and put our hands on the statue of the Saint (though I admit I probably would not have done the former had the Portico been open). We also didn’t climb the steps at the back of the main altar to embrace the statue of St. James – the queue to do this was very long and on this occasion we were happy to just wander around and see whatever we could.
Malcolm the Brave Now, not long after I met Ellena and Carolin the subject of getting a tattoo in Santiago came up (see Postcard 7 here and 8 here). I didn’t think it would happen, but the subject kept coming up and about two weeks before the end I realised that Ellena, who had suggested it, was serious.
So, after our trip to the cathedral, as she and Carolin rested, I went to the tattoo parlour and made an appointment… I just hoped that the cigar chewing, beer drinking Hells Angels bikers that probably owned the place wouldn’t beat me up and dump me in the gutter first.
Of course, it was nothing like that. The place was cleaner than clean, the people polite, and I even met Joey from Australia who had joined us once or twice (most recently at the Cruz de Ferro) along the Way. He was looking tense: he had already made his appointment and now the time for the needle had come.
Despite the fact that we only had a one day window to get our tattoos done, we managed to make the booking, decide what kind of tattoos to go for and get inked.
Here’s mine (forgive the Oh So Pale English skin):
Pau Cafre is the tattooist and he did an ace job. If you are ever in Santiago and are in the mood for a tattoo, check him out at Old Skull Tattoos.
Being tattooed was such an experience! I could have gone through with it by myself but when Ellena said she would come and sit in the room with me, I wasn’t going to turn that down. She held my hand and I rambled on about Alexander the Great while the needle did its work.
Speaking of the needle, there was just one, but it moved up and down so fast that it felt like there were goodness knows how many of them. It felt very dramatic.
I know that tattoos are not to everyone’s taste but I am so pleased I decided to get mine. It’s a wonderful reminder of the Camino – one that will never get broken, lost or stolen. If I ever walk another, I will definitely get another tattoo at the end. I’m already thinking about the keys of St. Peter.
Food Stations After leaving Old Skull Tattoos, we ate a lovely pizza round the corner. While in Santiago, we also visited a local KFC one or twice. I think I mentioned before that I never go to KFC at home so it remained a nice treat. I especially liked the free soft drink refill – it had my favourite Camino fizzy drink, Kas, so I was one happy customer. On one of the days we were there, a group of teens came in. One of the girls in the party was carrying a cat, her pet. She sat down and took good care of it while the others went to order the meal. It’s good to see young people with their heads screwed on right.
To Home Rest, Compostelas, churches, noms and tattoos. That was our holiday in Santiago. Finally, though, Thursday came and it was time to head to the airport. Upon our arrival, we stopped one last time together in a café. When the time came for Ellena and Carolin to head off to their flight we exchanged goodbyes and I watched them leave:
Sigh. Two hours later, it was time for me to do so. Farewell, Santiago; farewell, Camino; farewell, Spain. For now?
End So there it is; the end of my Camino. I did it! I bloody well did it! It started last November when I watched The Way, continued when I joined the Confraternity of St. James, took a big leap forward when I quit the job I wasn’t enjoying, and finally really got going after I left St. Jean, and became an immeasurably richer experience after I met Ellena and Carolin. And now? It’s over but it never will be. Here’s to the next stage.