Day Six. Mass, blue laws, naked beaches, Santander bank.
Happy Sunday! Or at least I thought it was until I saw the news about Orlando, Florida.
I began the day at Mass at St Michael's, a small church near my pensione hotel. It was a beautiful little church, and like all churches here they rang the church bells just before Mass time to alert everyone that it was time. I have always loved that about Europe. Real church bells pealing their notes out over the hills and valleys, like the Muslim adhaan call, or the horn call that the Jews use. In the US--in Staten Island, in fact--churches don't use their bells because people in the neighborhoods complain that they are annoying.
Not that there were tons of people at the Mass I attended this morning. It was mostly older folk, with a few children who essentially were a children's choir. Europe's Catholicism has dramatically diminished, and many people have turned away from the church, especially younger people. For many reasons the church simply doesn't speak to their lives anymore. Some of it is the fault of the priests and bishops, some of it resulting from a cultural shift in Europe in general. All these beautiful churches, and many of them have become mere historical treasures instead of being life-giving, family gathering spaces.
The priest gave a short homily, and the whole Mass was probably 35 minutes, and at the end of the Mass, I lingered so I could take some pictures. Just as I was taking a picture of the church, a lovely middle-aged woman came up to me and began speaking in Spanish (which of course I could not understand). I thought she was inviting me to come up front near the altarpiece so that I could take a picture, and so I smiled enthusiastically and said "si, si" (I know the word yes). She led me to the very front, right to where this statue of Jesus was placed in the altar wall. She moved the priest's stool over for me, and urged me to stand up on it. I thought that was very nice of her to let me have such a close-up view, but when she urged me (in Spanish I didn't understand but with clear gestures) to stand on the altarpiece itself, I was a little surprised. I assumed that she had told me how ancient the altar and statue was (at least I thought that's what all those foreign words meant), so why would she let this total stranger in shorts and hiking boots climb up there? I mean, it had to be delicate, and priceless, and what if I fell into it or something? But she kept urging me, and I kept smiling and saying "gracias, gracias" (I know the word thank you too), and so I climbed up there with some difficulty, almost grabbing a piece of the ancient decorative wood until she corrected me not to hold onto it. I started taking pictures of Jesus and of the statues above him, but it was very weird. I mean I was standing on this altarpiece that could have been from the Middle Ages and who ever does that in a church even though I'm a priest (which of course she didn't know)? And then she stopped me from taking the pictures and gestured to these withered flowers that were on the altarpiece right above my head. What? What about those withered flowers, I thought. And then I realized through her frantic gesturing that my reason for standing on this historic artwork was that she wanted me to take the withered flowers down. They were too high for her or anyone else in the church I guess, and besides I probably looked grubby enough to get up there and deal with the the possibility of getting myself even dirtier than I already was. So of course I took them down, and she said "gracias, gracias" a few times herself and then went off to throw the flowers somewhere outside. Meanwhile, I got some pretty good shots of Jesus and that priceless altarpiece.
After Mass I resumed the Camino. There were no stores or anything around so all I had for breakfast was a candy bar with hazelnuts that I bought the day before. It turned out that had to hold me until around 4pm because Spain still does what we used to do--closes all the stores on Sundays. I've often thought that when we did away with the 'blue laws' that forbade stores to be open on the day of rest, it was the beginning of the end of our family life. If you could go to the mall, get your hair cut, or go to Home Depot on Sunday, well naturally you wouldn't be spending the day with your kids or parents or extended family. And of course you probably wouldn't spend it with your church family either. Here in Spain they may not go to church, but they sure do spend quality time with their families on Sunday and everywhere I went today I saw those families gathered to be with one another, and to eat.
The walk took me through small towns where I saw these scenes, and to more fantastic beaches with gathered families, and to city scenes where the restaurants were packed, and everyone was dressed up.
I've included some photos of the Camino that had me walking literally right on the edge of cliffs above beaches. The sky was beautiful, and so was the sand and the water, and even the people. I was taking pictures from spots where a tumble would bring you instant death, but if that ever happened, what a place to go. And as I dared to capture some of the people on the beach, I realized through the lens that there were some down there who were 'in-the-altogether'. That was a first for me. I'd never join that crowd. I'm much too modest. But for some time the Europeans have had a maybe a much more relaxed perspective on the human body.
The walk today was really outstanding. I really felt blessed to be here and couldn't stop taking pictures of all the beauty I saw around me. I even made me forget my hunger.
The last part of the trip was a ferry ride over to the big city of Santander. You know all those Santander banks that are on many corners of NY now? Yup, home base is right here. It's a very lovely city with very distinctive architecture, and because it was Sunday everyone was out walking--husbands and wives, families, couples of all types, friends. And they were drinking and eating in the cafes, and everyone was getting ice cream. Including me. I finally found one store open at the beach where I bought my most frequent meal so far: some good bread, great cheese, and red wine. And so my day came to a lovely end. That's when I turned on the news and saw the devastating attack in Florida. How is it that people can still do such things? How is it that such hatred can still be taught, even to children? Tonight and tomorrow I'll join with you I praying for all the victims, but also that peace will come into the angry hearts of such people.
God bless us all.