My meeting last Saturday with the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims deserves a post on its own. It was held at Beach United Church, which is more of an event centre than a traditional church. The main room was large and airy with huge Gothic windows and comfortable seating - no kneelers. Volunteers had made great urns of coffee and filled a table with delicious baked goods. It was a Godsend for those who might have had to skip breakfast to get to the church on time - 8:30am.
Parking was extremely limited, however, I managed to get a spot. I planned to pay for my good luck, but the meter would not read either of my cards. I decided to cross my fingers and hope I wouldn't get a ticket. I paid my $20.00 cash at the door and bought 3 raffle tickets for $5.00.
Finally, I took a seat and waited. People were kind and chatty. Many had walked together, as there is a group that walks every Monday and Thursday. The paths are usually out of the city, but one was recently on Mud Creek. I hadn't read about it before, or I might have joined. However, forty people would be a lot to manage. I really do enjoy the solitude of my walks.
After the initial introduction, the group, which was almost 100 people, divided. Those who had walked Caminos before went downstairs for their talk, while the rest of us "first-timers" stayed where we were. Our talk was "A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim." Our speaker, who was very engaging, showed slides, gave some great tips and answered any questions from the audience.
I was able to buy my credential - the passport that you need to have stamped twice a day in order to get your certificate in Santiago. First, though, I had to join the organization $10.00 and then buy the credential for $5.00. All the funds do go to maintaining the hostels and paths of the pilgrimage. I had also hoped to be able to buy a Camino badge for my backpack, but none were available. I was, however, given my shell - the traditional symbol of the walk. You actually need one of these to stay in some hostels.
Lunch was mentioned on the agenda and I wondered how they were actually going to feed the 5,000 - or there abouts. I find feeding a few people at home a challenge, I would collapse at the thought of 100 or more. Fortunately, I made a sandwich for myself and was glad I had, because lunch was to actually order a wrap from a nearby cafe´. They were supposed to have been delivered, but at the last minute, people were asked to go and get theirs. I enjoyed my cheese and onion sandwich without having to go out in the cold.
I was tempted to skip the afternoon session which was a keynote speaker. In spite of chatting to people and having an opportunity to refer a few pilgrims to Jennifer Lash's book, "On Pilgrimage," I was getting restless. I decided to stay, however and I was glad I did. Our speaker, Susan, had walked several caminos. She was a former lawyer, turned phycho-therapist, and is finally now an Anglican minister. For her last Camino she took several women from her congregation on a pilgrimage. One of these women was completely blind. She came to our meeting with her service dog. I am now speechless!
Susan talked us through the historical and spiritual aspects of the Camino, in such an engaging way, that I was enthralled. She asked us why we were walking? I offered - "Next year, I will be 80 and I am looking for something to do for the next 10 years or for however long I am spared." Others responded as well.
When she talked about relics and the power of symbols, one former police officer told his story about being dispatched on a cold wet night to a residential area of Little Portugal in Toronto. Apparently a woman was on the veranda of a house blessing people. Hundreds had gathered. In the end, she blessed the policeman and gave him a medal. That woman was Mother Teresa. Unfortunately he had lost the medal.
I think I'll find what I'm looking for on my walk.
The pictures? The symbols on my backpack. The Canadian flag, of course, the Scottish flag for my late husband and both the Portuguese and Spanish flags because my Camino will pass through these countries. I was trying to get a general Camino badge. The one I like shows a shell with the Pride colours and the words "The Camino Provides." I may ask for that as a Christmas present.