Pilgrimpace's Blog

foxes have holes

The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
Stanley Spencer

One of my favourite blogs is Big Fun in a Tiny Pueblo written by Rebekah Scott.  Rebekah and her husband Paddy live in Moratinos near Sahagun and live in the Peaceable Kingdom, a remarkable House of Hospitality.  Rebekah writes in a beautifully clearsighted and truthful way.  Over the past few weeks, her post Hobo Road has stuck very much in my mind.  Rebekah has given me permission to quote from her, but you might like to read the original post here.

In the post, Rebekah writes about the experience of taking in pilgrims who “are homeless and jobless, wandering the road because there is no other place for them. Given an opportunity, they ask for what they need (Wily Antonio, another Portuguese drifter, shows up here every few months with a wish list!). If nobody gives them food and a bed for the night, they sleep outdoors and eat meals of cheap biscuits. They are poor in an honest, matter-of-fact way.The Camino de Santiago has for centuries been a hobo road, full of drifters and hustlers. Today it´s no different.”

Reading this, my mind and heart go in many directions.  I remember some days on the Camino de Sanabria a few years ago.  Jose Carlos, my Brazilian brother, and I were the only pilgrims in the albergue.  As it got dark, we chatted with the hospitalera, a local woman.  She told us of the problems she and other albergues faced with theft and abuse from pilgrims.  A few minutes after she went home, there was a tremendous banging on the door.  It was a wild looking young man with a rucksack and a wrecked knee.  In the circumstances it was a slightly spooky coincidence and he obviously could not afford the few euros for the albergue.  W made sure he stayed the night there.  Over the next few days our paths crossed a few times and we bought him dinner once or twice.  He was intelligent, unemployed, on the road – he must have been sleeping rough most of the time – and wonderfully ungrateful.  I saw him last in Ourense.

My mind goes back another twenty years to a few formative beautiful tough years working with homeless people in London.  Poverty which was so often destructive, of positive and deep change in people, of profound relationships, of my final shift – being given presents by people who had nothing, of sitting with an elderly man in a doorway on the Strand in the middle of the night as he quoted me Heine and Holderlin in the original.  Of how the English system of relief to homeless people meant them tramping round the country for several hundred years.

Forward to contemporary poverty in Birmingham.  St Gabriel’s embracing the first Birmingham Churches Winter Nightshelter in January.  When we reflected on it and I asked why, Margaret said it was because we are a poor Church.  Of our small attempts at doing something structural to make a difference in our communities: St Bede’s as a place of hospitality for a range of community activities and events; St Gabriel’s with the Older Peoples Forum, the out of school provision which helps families stay in work, the renewed work of hosting.

And there is a deep challenge in all this.  I have security and a good standard of living.  I try to be generous, but I could do so much more.  There is so much needed – indeed something that needs communal, national effort.  Rebekah inspires and challenges me with her life, her commitments and her words:

“Alongside the bums are the freeloaders, pilgrims suffering a different kind of poverty — a poverty of spirit.Freeloaders have enough money to vacation for weeks at a time, but they gleefully consume resources designed for people who can´t afford anything else. Freeloaders take up the “donativo” bunks in the pilgrim shelter because their friends are staying there, because albergues are “integral to my camino experience.” Paying little or nothing for their bed, they can spend the savings elsewhere. They sip beers at their café tables and discuss what makes an Authentic Pilgrim: Walking every step of the way. Prayers. Sacrificing personal comfort and hygiene by sleeping in scruffy pilgrim beds. 
Meantime, on the porch of the church, the bums bed down on the benches.
God grant us grace to be the change we want to see.

2 Comments so far
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This is one of the most interesting, challenging and thought-provoking posts you have ever written, Andy. And that’s saying something.

Perhaps you may remember my own slightly related post here: http://www.solitary-walker.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/carlos-and-anita.html

Comment by The Solitary Walker

Thanks Robert – and your post was lurking around at the back of my mind and one of the spurs to this reflecting, so thanks for linking again to it. I guess there’s a basic question I am beginning to articulate here about what voluntary pilgrimage can teach us in about compassion to those who are on involuntary pilgrimages caused by poverty, war, etc. Thanks for inviting me to further thought on this,


Comment by pilgrimpace

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