Murias de Rechivaldo
162 Miles to Santiago
I didn´t walk as far as I wanted to today. I couldn´t. Not because of pain, which is good and I am happy for. But because I was not in the right mindset.
My morning was wonderful. The walk to Astorga was absolutely breathtaking, especially by the pink dawn´s light. I absolutely fell in love with Astorga. But this afternoon I found myself in tears walking away as fast as I could. It´s not Astorga´s fault really, and I know it´s a shame. But I had to get away.
It all started when I decided to take a look in the cathedral. Like most cathedrals on the Camino, there was an entrance fee. I haven´t visited as many churches as I would have liked because I think this is wrong. It´s one thing to ask for a donation, but to charge admission simply to enter what is billed to be a place a worship infuriates me. It doesn´t seem a very christian idea. But the cathedral in Astorga was so beautiful and I was in such a pleasant mood I decided a few euros may be worth it. I was surprised to find there wasn´t a discounted pilgrim´s rate – as there is on most cathedrals on the camino – but I didn´t say anything and paid anyway. As I turned around the stoic man who sold me my ticket informed me that I must leave my pack in the lobby. Not in a locker, not behind the counter – on the floor in the middle of the lobby. I turned around slowly and asked him ¿por que? That is the rule, he told me.
Ah, one of those rules, I thought. I tried, in my bast scattered spanish, to explain to him that everything important to me in this world was in this backpack. And I couldn´t just leave it in a place where anyone could have a look through or even take it. He stared back unsympathetically. I quietly handed back my ticket and asked for a refund.
I was surprised to feel tears welling up as I walked out the door. Did this guy not realize I had walked hundreds of miles to the door of this church? Did he not realize how serious I was when I told him that everything important to me was in that pack? Why was it that it wasn´t allowed in? Was he nervous I would steal and hide some sacred object in the pack? Ladies were allowed to carry purses that had much more room for stolen objects than my rucksack. Was he worried it would take up too much space? Many honking strollers were permitted through as I was turned away. I didn´t understand. Why me? Out of all the people who showed up and paid the fee, why was I the one to be turned away? Wasn´t I just as deserving as the others? Isn´t it strange for a church to turn anyone away?
Ideas that have been stirring for a little while now became overwhelming as I stepped into the sunlight. And I realized the reason for the tears: I don´t think I want to be Catholic anymore.
Now granted, I haven´t been a good Catholic for a long time. But it was something I considered a part of me and something I took pride in. I had hoped that this camino might be something that would bring me closer to my Catholic background. But although the camino has taught me many wonderful, wonderful things, one thing that has happened is that if anything, it has brought me further away from my born religion.
Maybe attending so many masses in a foreign languge has allowed me to view them as an outsider. And what I´ve come to notice has not been very comforting. The masses lately to me have felt so cult-like. It´s the same thing every time, everyone says the same words, in unison, unthinking. Wouldn´t it mean so much more to pray from the heart, rather than repeat the Lord´s Prayer or the Nicene Creed for the 20894th time? How is it meaningful to say the same thing over and over and over again? It´s mindless. Maybe it works for some, but it doesn´t work for me.
And then there are the things I have experienced specifically on this camino and in my life. Like the nuns who threw Troy and I out onto the street even though we could barely walk. Or all of these Cathedrals, these ´Houses of God´, that charge entrance fees. Or the teacher in my Catholic grade school who, instead of comforting me after my beloved pet died, told me I would never see him again because he didn´t have a soul and so he is now turning to dust. And all of those rules? How is that Christian? How is that Catholic? It´s not. I don´t know what it is, but it´s not good. And I don´t want to be associated with it anymore.
If God exists, I don´t think he is in these great Cathedrals like they say. I think those places are awesome because they speak to the achievements of man. But they´re not awesome. Surely God would be much happier with that kind of wealth being spent elsewhere. On things like feeding the hungry and providing education to the needy and making sure everyone has access to clean drinking water. Or even on letting a couple of pilgrims with tendinits spend an extra day in your albuergue to heal. I think nature is a much better place to worship. On your own terms is a much better way to worship.
I´m sorry if this offends or upsets anyone. I know many of the people I am walking with and probably some people who read this blog would be shocked to hear these things coming from me. But I´m just really feeling that there is more bad than good coming from the Catholic church these days, and it doesn´t make me feel good to affiliate myself with that. And this morning that thought brought me to tears, but now I feel much better about it.
As painful of a revelation as this is, over the course of the past few hours I´ve become happy for it. I think I still have a ways to go as far as figuring out my religious beliefs, but this is a big step for me and I know it´s bringing me closer to where I need to be. As long as I focus on being the best person I can be I will be at peace with myself, and should I find God along the way, well, that will be nice too.