[This is the transcript of Janet Leitch’s opening address delivered on Friday 23 February at the 2018 AusCamino Festival at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. Janet based her talk on the Prayer of La Faba on the wall of the church at O Cebreiro as a good inspiration for learning to walk with an open heart and an open mind. Free to be ourselves, forgiving of those around us and building a sense of community around us in the world we inhabit.]
The decision is made. You are going on a Camino. The planning starts, the bookings made. Stomach churning, it is time to leave home, time for the long journey to begin. What anticipation, what trepidation, but what excitement! Those of you who have yet to make a Camino, and those who already have, know what I am talking about. Many of us go on that first Camino thinking we are going on a long walk. Somewhere along the way it turns into a pilgrimage.
Robyn Davidson, author of Tracks, and the woman who walked across the Simpson Desert with camels says: As we’ve lost this idea of pilgrimage, we’ve lost this idea of walking for a very, very long time. It does change you.
Those of us who have undertaken a Camino well know how pilgrimage can change us. On the wall in the small church of O Cebreiro, there is a plaque with the Prayer of la Faba written on it (see page 22). The first part of this prayer, or poem, reads: Although I may have travelled all the roads, crossed Mountains from East to West, if I have not discovered the freedom to be myself, I have arrived nowhere.
As we make our journey, wherever we might begin, or end, we have that wonderful gift of the Camino – time. Time to discover things about ourselves and those around us. Time to explore and acknowledge where we fit into this wonderful world of ours and the contribution we make to it. Time to be free, to be ourselves.
The Prayer of la Faba continues: Although I may have shared all of my possessions with people of other languages and cultures; made friends with Pilgrims of a thousand paths, or shared albergues with saints and princes, if I am not capable of forgiving my neighbour tomorrow, I have arrived nowhere.
The Camino has no barriers. There is an anonymity about the Camino that is rarely found anywhere else. We can share a meal with a beggar or a CEO, with a priest or an atheist, a law breaker or a law keeper. In the albergues you can sleep with someone different every night, share the bathroom with many – young, old – male, female, learning to look in a different direction on occasions! Gradually as we journey onwards we become more accepting, more forgiving. The trick is to bring this attitude home with us.
Again, continuing those words from la Faba; Although I may have carried my pack from beginning to end and waited for every Pilgrim in need of encouragement, or given my bed to one who arrived later than I, given my bottle of water in exchange for nothing; if upon returning to my home and work, I am not able to create brotherhood or to make happiness, peace and unity, I have arrived nowhere.
Being critical and judging others can be too easy. Tempting as it may be, on the Camino it is best not to judge those who catch a taxi, a bus, or a train. It is only too easy for us to twist an ankle, strain a tendon or a knee, and it could be you or I having to do just that. For some, the only way to make a Camino is to have help – to take a ride, to have bags transported – what you and I take for granted, is only a dream for others. Without such assistance, they might not make it, a Camino might not be possible.
Lastly, from the Prayer of la Faba: Although I may have seen all the monuments and contemplated the best sunsets; although I may have learned a greeting in every language or tried the clean water from every fountain; if I have not discovered who is the author of so much free beauty and so much peace, I have arrived nowhere.
Journeying onwards, we are no longer looking inward, but outwards, with a sense of wonder and with a sense of peace and acceptance. Our horizons are broadened. That long walk has become a pilgrimage. Somewhere along the way that long walk, for many, maybe even most, has become a spiritual journey.
We bring that Camino feeling home with us, looking at the world through Camino eyes, and the lessons learned should help us to be:-
free, to be ourselves,
forgiving, of those about us,
able to build a sense of community around us, and within the world we in habit.
Our horizons have been broadened. We have learned much. We have made friends. In France, on the way, we frequently hear the word Ultreia. The fortunate ones amongst us have heard it sung.
Ultreia, Bonne Courage, Bonne Route, Buen Camino!
In the spirit of the Camino, with an open mind, with our thoughts on the journey, and with a feeling of eagerness and anticipation I declare the AusCamino Festival open.