Hey y’all, do you think you can all be ready in an hour to walk to Santo Antonio church together for the pilgrim blessing?
We had just finished a long day of walking, but I had read about a pilgrim’s mass at a church in Barcelos that I wanted to attend. I told everyone that it was totally optional.
You can just meet us at the restaurant if you want a little more time to decompress after the day.
But one fun detail about this group was that they were consistently game for whatever I threw at them. They were all ready to go to church at the appointed time.
We planned to slip in the back pew, maybe not even stay for the whole service if it ran long. We had an 8pm dinner reservation.
But two volunteers met us at the front door and ushered to the special seating reserved for pilgrims. We sat down off to the left of the congregation in a choir stall, so that we were facing everyone.
I guess we won’t be slipping out early, I whispered to Stephanie.
The church was packed on this Tuesday evening mass, not with pilgrims, but with folks from town for whom I assumed this practice of evening mass was a regular one. There was singing and readings and faces lit with joy.
Everything was in Portuguese, so our group plus one other pilgrim from Germany, sat and joined in where we could. Sometimes a chorus would repeat and we could sing part of it.
At the end of the service, the volunteers brought us to the front of the church for the special pilgrim blessing, which the priest read in Portuguese, English and German.
The whole crowded church participated in the blessing. You could tell that this business of blessing pilgrims is a ministry that they all embrace as part of being a church along The Way.
We learned that many of them have walked the pilgrimage route themselves. They have a heart for folks walking the Camino, so they make sure that two volunteers stand outside the church every evening to welcome any pilgrims who come.
When the service finished, our volunteers ushered us off to a side room where they had gifts waiting for us: a bookmark and a list of other places along the Portuguese Camino that offer pilgrims’ mass.
There was a world map on the wall full of pins representing the many places from which pilgrims had journeyed to walk this Camino. We added our pins to the others. We were excited to place the first pin on the state of Arkansas.
They also asked us each to choose a rock from a collection that had been hand-painted by a woman in their church who especially loves the Camino.
Diane chose one that had the world JOY on it. She later said that she chose it because it echoed her Bible reading from that morning. She had read these words from Psalm 5:
Let all who take refuge in you be glad,
Let them even sing with joy.
She said later that her rock is special to her because it’s a reminder of God speaking the same message to her from all different directions, just for her heart. JOY was the world God continued to speak to her throughout our time on the Camino.
Before we left, the volunteers asked us if we needed anything. Did we have a place to stay that night? What about water? I had the sense that if we had presented any immediate physical needs, these ladies would have done whatever they could to meet them. When we walked back through the church, we paused to take a photograph with the priest who had blessed us.
He and Diane’s son, Alex, were speaking together in Spanish, and I think they could have continued visiting well into the evening had we not interrupted them.
We left the church with hearts full and with our new pilgrim friend from Germany, Kerstin. She joined us for dinner that evening and brought along another friend as well. At the restaurant, we sat chatting with them for so long that they missed their curfew at their hostel. They had to find someone to open the door and let them in.
We saw Kerstin many more times on the Camino and shared several more meals and masses. I felt like our shared experience at Santo Antonio in Barcelos bonded us together for the journey. Meeting her was one of the many gifts we received at our special pilgrim blessing in Barcelos. We will remember it always.