Declan O’Keeffe, Head of Communications at Clongowes Wood College SJ, recently returned from the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. He hiked the ancient pilgrim route last year with his friends, but sadly since then, his friend Fran passed away due to cancer. This year they carried the memory of Fran with them as they continued their journey toward Santiago de Compostela. In this blog, Declan offered some hard-earned insights along the way.
Fran was the noblest, the smartest, the gentlest of men. He was a loving husband, a doting father and a loyal friend. We all miss him madly and can only strive to be half the person that Fran was. He has left a huge hole that can never be filled and it was our privilege to have known and loved him and to be counted as his friend.
Fran has taken a different Camino to us and is ahead of us on the road, but when we catch up with him again there’s going to be a hell of a party.
The Camino is all about the people, always has been and always will. While it involves hiking, it is not a hiking trip. While it is relaxing in many ways and great fun, it is not a holiday. Rather it is what it always has been – a pilgrimage with all the wonder and adventure that pilgrimages engender in pilgrims.
Daddy in Wonderland
Back in 2014 I had the privilege of accompanying my then 86-year-old father, Tom O’Keeffe, on the Camino de Santiago for four days. In that time, we walked some 60 km from the outskirts of Leon to Santa Catalina de Somoza by way of Mazarife, Hospital de Orbiga and Astorga.
Sir Tom the Da (Myles na gCopaleen fans) is still alive and well and living in Dublin in his ninth decade but no longer capable of such peregrinations, not that it stops him planning further campaigns.
This afternoon we returned to Mazarife and put up at the Albergue Tio Pepe once more. After dinner, I showed a picture of my dad to the landlady and nothing would do her but to take a picture of us to show him back home.
The Camino continues to provide. Thinking of you Dad.
A never-ending Camino
Last week, as we arrived back in Santiago 50 weeks to the day after our last visit, we noticed that our (off white) sneakers and (off white) walking trousers had acquired the sandy colour of the trail and that it was difficult to see where we stopped and where the Camino began. We have no intention of laboring the metaphor save to say that the Camino begins with the decision to undertake it and never ends. And that we mean to be back again real soon.
“For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.”
Fran couldn’t make it in person but was with us in spirit every step of the way. The factor 50 sun cream that he donated on the last day of his Camino protected our delicate bonce all the way to Santiago as did his baseball cap, which we had the honour of wearing with pride.
Fran’s memory was invoked regularly by yours truly and his other travelling companions, John Brophy and Carolyn Murphy during the many all-day conversations that the Camino encourages. Often of an evening, when in doubt, we would ask: ‘What would Fran do?” and the inevitable answer always led to much merriment and an all-round good time…
The gift of time
Time is the great gift: none of us knows for sure how big our portion is, which makes it all the more important to use it while it is still ours. The ability to be aware of the passing moments as they pass, as opposed to bemoaning their passing in hindsight is a great gift. If our time on the Camino is to be worth anything (and it is worth much) it should be reflected in our lives here and hereafter.
Set the world on fire
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Compañía de Jesús or Jesuits often ended his letters to his companions setting off on the missions with the expression ite, inflammate omnia—‘go, set the world on fire.’ It is a laudable ambition and one that we do well to follow as our pilgrimages unfold and our paths continue to be revealed to us.