In loving memory of Denise Pikka Thiem, a beautiful soul. Died April 2015. Castrillo de los Polvazares
Denise Pikka Thiem, an American pilgrim, was killed outside Astorga in the spring of 2015. Peaceable Projects Inc, a US non- profit organisation, started in October 2015, has established a memorial park out- side Astorga to remember Denise and other pilgrims who lose their life on the Camino. Here’s how Peaceable Projects began and the work that they are doing.
After Denise’s death, we conceived the idea of a small park along the path, dedicated to pilgrims who die while on their Camino journey. Planting a tree and placing a plaque could be a way for friends and family to share a reminder of their loved one along the trail they loved. We did not want the park to be a dark spot or a memorial: rather, a place to stop and reflect, to honour fellow pilgrims, and remember how short our lives are.
In the months following Denise’s murder, the culprit was caught, judged, and sentenced to 26 years of jail time. But the Thiem family wasn’t ready to sign off on anything for some time, so plans for a memorial were laid aside. I contacted some well-connected people in Astorga, to discuss a little park alongside the Camino path. This park even had a small chapel, where memorial services or Mass could be held. The people of Astorga agreed with the idea – even to supplying the trees and mowing the grass. The Bishop of Astorga blessed the site in the spring of 2016 and, in 2017, we installed and blessed our first memorial plaque, for Ron Duke, an Australian pilgrim who died in León (see article in Camino Chronicle #23 December 2017).
More months passed. I again gently asked Denise’s family: “Would you like a Camino memorial?” This time they agreed. So, after another summer, two American friends and I carried a plaque of Yorkshire stone over to Astorga, mixed some concrete, and set the Denise Pikka Thiem stone in place. It sits at the foot of a red maple tree, planted especially for Denise, and hung with pilgrim scallop shells, There’s an epitaph written by Denise’s brother, Cedric, with Denise’s favourite flowers planted nearby.
If you would like to support our ongoing efforts to ‘Do Good on the Holy Way’, you can donate by visiting our website www.peaceableprojects.org
Please pause at the park to reflect when you pass Astorga.
(NOTE: Since writing, I have been informed that a group of Argentine pilgrims set a memorial plaque for Denise along the Camino earlier on. So our memorial in Astorga is not the first, but it remains a special place to pause and reflect.)