Thank you to all who came to the Annual Camino mass on the 23rd July 2017… We were glad to be able to welcome the Lord Mayor and the representative of the Spanish ambassador. We were honoured too to have the Schaler family Rainhard, Patricia and Padraig with us as guests. Many Members of the society joined with the parishioners of James Parish. We also placed a photo of our dear friend Danny Sheehy at the altar and special prayers were offered for his happy repose. Remembering Máire and the family in Kerry who mourn his loss.
We thought all our Members who could not make the Mass would like to read it.
Homily, 23 July 2017
Thank you to the Parish and the Society of St James for organizing this annual mass and for the honour of their invitation to briefly talk to you today about Pádraig’s and our experience on the Camino, the Camino Celta.
Because Pat and I met in Spain as students and returned to live there after we married, Spain has always been special for our family. Every Easter when our children were young they accompanied us to Spain for the Semana Santa processions and celebrations.
We tried to choose costal locations which would allow for sand castles and later the possibility of a tan for our daughters. However, with the passing years when the sand and sun lost their appeal and we had experienced a lot of processions, Pat had the brainwave that we could walk the Camino together, the whole family. A few days every Easter. Towards Santiago de Compostela. And take in a procession or two en route.
And that is what we did. We walked together, and often not together, alone, or two or three of us together. That is the joy of the Camino as most of you know all too well: you can walk alone if you want to, or chat or be in silent company. Joining with our steps the ancient paths that have been prepared for us over centuries by pilgrims seeking healing in the city that is home to the shrine of St. James.
The first year we set out on the Camino, I grasped the opportunity to dig out my treasured leather walking boots that had served me so well on my wonderings through South America – 30 years previously. After one day of walking in these veteran boots, I had blisters. Nothing too serious. But they got worse as we continued on our walk. And at the end of that first leg of our Camino I knew: I had to change and leave behind what was very much a treasured part of my past.
Meanwhile, our son and daughters bounced along – against our advice – in runners.
We were getting closer to Santiago by Easter 2013 when two months later all our lives were changed forever in one split second. A truck, trying to overtake our son Pádraig, as he cycled to work on his J1 visa one bright morning on a small country road on Cape Cod, hit him so forcibly that he had to be resuscitated by a passing nurse and just about survived with a catastrophic brain injury.
What followed was an Odyssey through the American, Irish and German intensive care and neurological rehabilitation systems. There were times of terror, fear, shock and awe. We feared loosing Pádraig several times. The family was split up and the pain at times was almost unbearable.
But we learnt an incredible lesson, an expression which is often bandied about, but it is true that
Ar scáth a cheile a mhaireann na daoine.
We live in the shadow of one another; we need each other.
From the moment the accident happened the outflow of goodness, kindness and caring we received and continue to receive begs the question how such goodness can result from such a terrible event.
Pádraig’s struggle for survival and recovery inspired his friends to swim around Ireland, to record songs, to write poems, to swim a mile, to run five marathons in five days, to cycle a thousand miles, climb mountains, cook barbeques, organize car boot sales and pub quizzes in order to raise funds to help him. – To do things they probably thought they’d never do in their lives. Their parents rallied in with other fundraising events and even organized the building of a room for Pádraig in our garden and replaced what was left of the garden with a sensory garden.
What they did, their energy and support, their prayers and belief, got us through the most difficult times of our lives. We never gave up because of Pádraig’s determination and because of the incredible support he and we received from his friends and family – from neighbours we did not know well and even strangers who had heard about his accident and decided to help.
Last year, we decided to finish the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. With Pádraig who had said he really wanted to. He communicates with his left foot on a foot switch but, of course, also with his expressions.
The Society of St James recommended the new Celtic Way, the Camino Celta, to us: 25 km in Ireland, from Inch Beach to Dingle, the traditional port of departure for Irish pilgrims, including those who did not leave voluntarily like the Wild Geese and Red Hugh O’Donnell, and then 75 km from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.
We started to plan the walk in Dingle and the longer, one week walk along the Camino Celta in Spain. This spring, our plans materialized.
Kerry and her people are renowned for their hospitality and warm welcome. For Pádraig, they made the impossible possible. Not only did they help us to organize excellent accommodation and all the necessary maps, they made sure the weather was presenting the Kingdom from its best side: blue skies every day and not a drop of rain. The Society of St James and the Kerry Camino Committee organized our passports and off we went, accompanied by some old and some new friends.
Once we had completed the first leg to Dingle, we felt confident that we could do the Spanish leg. But we knew Pádraig needed a different wheelchair. He got a new, because of his 6’7” height, custom-made MountainTrike, a three-wheeled wheelchair with state-of-the-art shock absorbers and tyres. So taken were we all with the chair that its actual width and dimensions did not initially strike any of us as problematic.
And then we got to Spain and to the train station where they told us that that wheelchair would not fit on their trains. The first two days were so nerve racking that I began to wonder had we taken the right decision when we embarked on this pilgrimage. And the rest of the family, I’m sure, began to wonder had they taken the right decision to bring me along. Pádraig was very relaxed, I was the nervous wreck.
When it turned out that this impressive MountainTrike did not fit in the lift nor through the door of the room we had booked for our overnight stays in Ordes, the hotel receptionist came to the rescue with her recently deceased Grandmother’s wheelchair. She got her cousin to deliver it promptly to the hotel for Pádraig’s exclusive use during his stay. Granny’s wheelchair fitted through all the doors and even into the lift. Sitting 6’7” Pádraig into that tiny lady’s tiny wheelchair and transferring him up the lift into his room, however, broke all known health and safety regulations and was, I’m sure, only possible through the direct intervention of St James himself.
But then, things changed. Pádraig’s happiness and determination were contagious.
The driver of the only (!) wheelchair taxi in town, Ramón, became our best friend over the days he drove us back and forth to the starting and end points of our daily walks on the Camino. – At the time, luckily, I was so busy and nervous that the thought of what we would have done had he been ill or simply otherwise occupied never even crossed my mind … Looking back today, we were just so very lucky that he was there and that he was so helpful and friendly. Because there was no plan B for transport.
When we finally arrived in Santiago, after six days of a wonderful – and eventually even relaxed – walk on the Camino Celta, Pádraig was greeted by Flamenco-singing Spaniards from the beautiful Andalusian city of Cádiz, supported by a group of incredibly enthusiastic lads from Donegal – (whom had been told by Sr. Katherine of Pádraig’s arrival) and who had obviously been celebrating for quite some time before Pádraig’s arrival in the city.
In the Pilgrims’ Welcome Office, the incredible Sister Katherine had prepared a welcome that allowed us all to reflect on the magnitude of what Pádraig had achieved. Not only had he become the first wheelchair user who had completed the new Camino Celta, he had proven to himself and to all of us that there is life and living, that there is adventure and tremendous joie de vivre to be experienced on the Camino – independent of your level of ability.
When I met Pat first in Salamanca where we both studied for a year, many moons ago, generously supported by the Spanish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Church, we both listened almost non-stop to a singer from Catalunya, Joan Manuel Serrat. One of his songs put one of the most beautiful poems in Spanish by Antonio Machado, who could be described as Spain’s Yeats, to music.
Caminante, no hay camino
Se hace camino al andar
Al andar se hace camino
Y al volver la vista atras
Se ve la senda
Que nunca se ha de volver a pisar
Caminante no hay camino
Se hace camino al andar
Walker (traveller) Caminante there is no road or way
YOU make the road as you walk
Walking you make your way
And as you look back,
you see the pathway that you will never again tread.
Walker there is no road
You make that road as you walk
That for me is the lesson the Camino taught me. There is no “Camino”, there is no sign-posted, predictable way through life, one we can plan and prepare for.
We have to make that way as we make our way through life, and deal with whatever we encounter on that way in the best possible way.
Never alone though. Always together. Always in community. Caring for each other. Looking out for each other. Inspiring each other. Loving each other.
To me, that is our mission in life.
The Camino Annual Mass will be held in the Church of St James
On July 29th 2018 @ 10.30am (the nearest sunday date to the 25th feastday)
All are welcome, especially if you have walked the Camino recently or in the past.
Meet up with the Amigos you may have encountered on the Camino over a cup of Tea/Coffee.