Day 27. El Beso, A Balsa to Molino de Marzán, Barbadelo. 24.2km.
Beginning our day fueled by the farm grown vegetarian dinner and breakfast provided by a small sustainable albergue, we moved towards Sarria. This city nestled towards the end of the Camino is the traditional starting point for those pilgrims who can only tackle the final 100km required to receive a Compostela. Churches, schools, and tour groups can be seen funneling through the city and filtering into the routes. Pilgrims who have been walking from early cities, often scoff at these groups for not being “true pilgrims” or for corrupting the sanctity of this ancient trail with their tourist schedule and voyeuristic gaze.
While we all humbly try to remind one another, “Everyone walks their own Camino,” I realized that we are living a modernized version of the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
For the kingdom of heaven is like the road to Santiago de Compostela. After agreeing to take this pilgrimage and understanding that when they arrived in Santiago they would receive only a Compostela, a certificate, testifying to their journey, people set off from their homes and began walking the road from St. Jean Pied de Port. As they walked their legs grew weary and their muscles ached. After a few days walking, they passed through Pamplona and Logroño. In each town, those whose journey began in St. Jean met new people whose journey was only beginning. For days and weeks they walked together, cooked and ate together, and grew in fellowship. They compared blisters and shared bandages and over time could not tell one another apart.
Eventually this group passed larger cities of Burgos, Leon, and Astorga. In these cities too, the clacking sticks grew louder as more pilgrims joined their masses. Crawling past the repetitive doldrums of the Meseta, snacking through the slopes of the neighboring regions, and standing small amidst the towering forests each pilgrim moved step in step.
Finally arriving in Sarria, bruised and battled old pilgrims joined new pilgrims fresh from their planes, trains, and buses. They all hustle for the last 100 kilometers to Santiago.
Arriving in Santiago de Compostla, standing before the final resting place of St. James, the pilgrims await their Compostela. Rumors move over the crowd that another certificate is awarded based also on distance traveled. Lining up each pilgrim approaches the office, explains their reasons for walking this journey, and receives their Compostela. The ones who began their journey in St. Jean Pied de Port, grumbled, “These pilgrims walked only 500km, and those, they walked only 100km, and you have made them equal to us who have burdened and labored for the full 790km.”
Sitting before them, the polite attended responds, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree to walk to Santiago to recover your Compostela? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to the last group of pilgrims the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to offer this reward to those who only walk 100km? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.