Camino Pilgrim Becomes a Hospitalero
Dancing Pilgrim September 20, 2013
leaving Sofia in Portugal I head over to Tosantos,
a small town of about a dozen houses. It is close
to the city of Burgos and was the halfway mark of
my Camino. For 20 days I am going to be a hospitalero
there for pilgrims on the Way to Santiago. Even
though in my diary I’ve written more about my time
in Tosantos than I did about the entire Camino,
I will write only one blog about my time there.
I’m doing that partly to catch up and because being
in the same place for 20 days, there were not many
pictures to make an interesting series of blog posts.
I will also leave out stories, as the length of
this post would become unbearable.
for Pilgrims: The philosophy and spirituality of
albergue in Tosantos is not technically an albergue.
It is a “Hospital for Pilgrims”, and it runs in
the same tradition as the albergues of 1000 years
ago. The word hospital is used in the following
two senses: first regarding hospitality, and also
as a hospital where people are cared for. The house
embraces a Franciscan spirituality and Jose Luis,
the responsible one for the house, is a 3rd order
Franciscan. St. Francis of a Assisi is probably
the most wellknown and beloved of all saints, even
by many who are not Christians. It has been argued
that no one in history has been as dedicated as
St. Francis to the imitation and work of Christ,
in Christ’s own way. Which is why he has been called
by some as “The Other Christ”.
are some of the characteristics of our house:
The primary concern is for the person as we follow
the Rule of St. Benedict:
“In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the
greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because
it is especially in them that Christ is received.”
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.
No one is rejected, regardless of whether they are
on pilgrimage or not.
There is a minimal set of rules and the environment
inside the house should make pilgrims feel at home.
We offer a place to sleep, dinner, and prayer to
rejuvenate the pilgrim physically and spiritually.
is no charge for anything we offer. A pilgrim is
told where they can leave a voluntary and anonymous
donation which is used to pay bills and buy food.
At the end of the year all the money in excess is
donated to Caritas, a Christian confederation that
works for Social Justice.
We consider sleep to be sacred which is why one
of the rules is that no one can wake up or make
any noise before 6am. Also, the pilgrim can sleep
as long as they need.
Those who serve and work, the hospitaleros, are
Jose Luis saves the best beds for last because we
like people who arrive late, which is usually a
sign that the person is enjoying the Camino for
the Camino’s sake and has no rush to get to the
I Spent My Time: Daily routine and practicalities
of the service
there is one thing I can say, is that being a hospitalero
is more tiring than being a pilgrim who walks everyday
25 km or so with a heavy backpack. As a hospitalero
you are the first one to get up and the last one
to go to sleep. A pilgrim has the choice to sleep
longer or take an easy day, walk less and rest the
afternoon. For a hospitalero it doesn’t matter how
tired we are, we have to attend whatever number
of pilgrims we get, whether it is 4 or 40.
are my basic everyday duties:
Wake up at 6am to prepare breakfast
Say goodbye to the pilgrims
Start cleaning the house (floors, kitchen, dining
area, bedrooms, bathrooms)
Go to Belorado, a 5 km walk, to buy supplies and
attend daily mass
Come back home and finish cleaning (total cleaning
time would be 2 to 3 hours)
Welcome new pilgrims in the afternoon. I would explain
how the house works, the schedule, stamp their credential,
make them feel at home
Care for any pilgrims with injuries or problems
Start preparing dinner along with pilgrims who would
Assist and/or lead the evening prayer experience
Setup table for breakfast
Make sure everybody is inside the house and ready
for bed by 11pm
People We Get: Hosting with a spirit of abundance
and hosting people I realized how picky I was as
a pilgrim. As a pilgrim I would always have my litany
of questions: “Do you have WiFi? Is there a store
to buy food? Do you have a washing machine? What
do you serve for breakfast?” Etc… Sometimes I would
ask even when I wouldn’t be using those services.
It was purely ridiculous on my part. As a hospitalero
it would be rare for me to receive people who would
act like I did after the house orientation. Most
would just be thankful that they have a place to
stay. The number of people varied by the day. One
day we got 4 (two seminarians, 1 pilgrim, and a
man dressed like Santa Claus), the next day we got
40 (with people sleeping in the halls and the living
room). The average we received was about 25 per
work with a spirit of abundance. In the house there
is no set number of spaces allocated for pilgrims,
Jose Luis told me that everyone who stops by this
house is because they had something to receive.
Because of that we would never say no to anybody.
We would always find a place for them to stay. It
is difficult to explain this because the logical
mind tells you that there is a limit to everything
that is finite. When I arrived and he told me that,
I thought to myself “That it is a nice thought,
but I know there is a limit.” I then tried to look
for that limit while in the house, and in all honesty
I never found it, it was almost magical how there
would always be space for everybody who came. Food
also came abundantly. Pilgrims could repeat as much
as they wanted for dinner. It was the multiplication
of the loaves story becoming real.
are some of the more colorful visitors we got:
A spanish father and daughter on horses
A french family on a donkey
An italian loner on a motorcycle
A korean man walking barefoot for Jesus
A woman who was a hospitalera in another albergue
when I was a pilgrim (and now the roles were reversed)
One Puerto Rican
A group of Camino fanatics doing the whole thing
in 13 days in order to follow the 13 stages in the
Codex Calixtus, which was written over 1000 years
ago (what is considered to be the original Camino
A man dressed like Santa Claus walking the Camino
in the opposite direction
More than a few eccentrics with a loose screw in
A few esoterics who consider themselves wizards
Pepe, the character who lives in the Camino and
likes to dress up like the pilgrims of 1000 years
then… the violence began…
dinner preparation Jose Luis would usually start
finding those who can sing. They would start singing
Taize songs together while the others cooked. Singing
was one of the signature characteristics of our
house. One day we received a french group that could
sing the Taize songs in 3 voices. It was one of
the most beautiful gifts I received in my time there.
Preparing dinner was a good time for people to fraternize
in good Camino spirit. Dinner would begin after
all were gathered together. We would begin with
a prayer to give thanks. Sometimes we would celebrate
birthdays of pilgrims, and we would sing popular
was during dinner preparation that John raised his
fist at the spanish woman. When this happened, Jorge
charged into John and forced him to the floor. He
starts to choke him and drag him down the hallway.
A few other men keep the violence from turning into
murder as he is thrown outside the house. John got
up and started to open up his backpack to get his
knife. Jorge pushes him hard to the ground. John
gets up and raises his fist. Jorge punches him in
the nose and blood starts dripping on the ground
as John stays shocked in the ground. The pilgrims
the police, and an ambulance would show up and John,
who was mentally unstable and drunk, is escorted
somewhere else. During dinner I strongly recommended
that those involved in the violence would come up
for the prayer and that day the majority of pilgrims
did. One of the first parts of the prayer experience
is a time of silence and reconciliation with God.
The tears were many that evening.
Awakening to the Camino
the upper room begins the climax of the experience
for the pilgrim. We would get about 75% attendance.
The experience would last about an hour. The most
difficult part being the tradition of the notes.
It was a daily occurrence to have several of the
people crying by the end. Some find it difficult
to leave the prayer room after it is done as they
are trying to process what has just happened inside
a few days into my time there Jose Luis would delegate
more and more of the prayer time for me to lead,
to the point that I did it all by myself and he
sat with the pilgrims, sometimes with his eyes closed.
It was a responsibility that I took very seriously.
It is interesting to think how a month earlier I
had my Camino changed by this experience and here
I am now being the one leading this for the pilgrims
of the day.
Camino Pilgrim Becomes a Hospitalero | The Dancing
Pilgrim Page 9 sur 16
Goodbyes: The hardest moment for the hospitalero
responsible for the pilgrims, I am the last one
to go to bed and the first one to get up. Every
morning I would fumble out of bed to start preparing
breakfast for the pilgrims. I would also turn on
some relaxing music so the pilgrims have a good
mood to begin the day. They would come down in different
waves. Some would leave quickly. Others, especially
those who were moved by the experience of the house,
would have difficulty in leaving and would wander
around or extend their breakfast with more conversation.
This is when one of the hardest moments would begin;
pilgrims would leave gifts with me, some would say
goodbye with a big hug and tears on their face.
Many would express their immense gratitude for it
all. I also had a gift I shared with some. It was
a small yellow arrow, a symbol of the divine guide
that we can all follow in life and that we sometimes
wished was as clear and explicit as the yellow arrows
pointing the Way to Santiago. A day I won’t forget
is when a Korean woman went to say goodbye to Jose
Luis. As he started giving her the Franciscan blessing
on her forehead, she froze in place as she started
to cry. She was unable to move for 5 minutes. He
had that effect on her even though they didn’t even
share a common language to communicate in.
my last days, I went to confession with Segis the
priest, where I would learn something that would
stay with me.
were the situations I was dealing with:
As a hospitalero I would get irritated if pilgrims
wouldn’t help with the cooking or washing the dishes.
Segis pointed out that those who don’t know love,
service and the life of the spirit need our selfgiving
witness to it. It is a step in opening their eyes
to the way.
would also get irritated with the thought that the
pilgrims did not give an appropriate donation. We
counted the money every morning and sometimes we
got less than 3 euros per person. Come on people!
In this house pilgrims are getting a place to sleep,
a hot shower, dinner, breakfast and even spiritual
nourishment. But seeing how detached Jose Luis was
from this was an inspiration. He trusts God would
take care of Him and I never saw him complain during
the days we received so little. He emphasized how
the donation is voluntary and anonymous and how
we are not here to put up the theater of asking
for a donation but implying that they leave something
considerable. Even beyond that, when he perceived
pilgrims who were poor he emphasized how they did
not have to leave anything. He also welcomed them
to eat lunch with us.
I would also judge other pilgrims if the first impression
they gave me was not favorable. I would even act
out of a spirit of rejection and hint at them as
not being welcomed in the house. I remember one
man I had an eye on because I thought he was odd,
would be trouble for other pilgrims and had a hint
of being disrespectful. The next morning he waited
for everyone to leave so he could talk with me.
This man shared his internal faith conflict and
poured out his heart to me. He was raised Catholic,
but found happiness after becoming a Buddhist several
years ago. He honestly wanted to understand my experience
of following Christ. He was overjoyed and moved
by the conversation. We both share a love of Mother
Teresa, and he explains the work for kids he does
in Southeast Asia and Africa. But there is one more
thing I have to do. Last night I judged this man.
I tell this man what I thought of him and asked
forgiveness for judging him. It was an emotional
moment for both of us. He shares how I will be part
of his next book and asks permission to use what
I shared. In this experience I betrayed the very
words Jose Luis had spoken the previous day during
the prayer on judging others. How Jose Luis welcomes
anybody regardless of first impressions was inspiring.
To him it didn’t matter if they came without a pilgrim
credential, with a horrible stench, or if they came
in a BMW.
In addition to me and Jose Luis there would usually
be a 3rd hospitalero. I would also get bothered
if the other hospitalero wouldn’t be doing as much
work as I was. Yet, Jose Luis, who is 70 years old,
would not regard his position as reason to direct
others and take it easy on himself, even though
he has all the right to do so. He would work and
serve all the time if he had to, doing the lowest
of chores. He would never complain if I wasn’t helping,
he would just keep doing his work. Sometimes he
would even suggest that I rest for a while. There
is a scene from a documentary I saw on Mother Teresa
that has stayed with me ever since. It is a scene
where she is shown cleaning the bed posts for the
sick with a rag. Here is a woman who started a religious
order that opened hundreds of houses during her
lifetime throughout the world, she inspired millions
of people from all walks of life, won the Nobel
peace prize, has been on stage with the Pope, and
here she is doing the most basic of works as if
it were her main job. Jose Luis would remind me
of that scene.
summary the lesson received from this confessional
experience: The Love of a Christian is the love
without condition and judgement. That is our testimony
to the world, of Jesus’ message and the power of
God’s Spirit in us.
is Above All Things
important lesson I received is that a Christian
believes God is above all things. In the Camino,
the pilgrim has many stops during his pilgrimage,
and I had to humbly realize that we are just one
stop in their journey. We have our role to play,
and we can’t pretend to be the entire Camino for
people. We trust that God is greater than ourselves
and religion. In the Camino of life God’s work is
done through the hands of many people. We are to
be sensitive to where others are spiritually and
sometimes our role in bringing others closer to
God can be as basic as loving and serving them and
nothing more; and for those who are responsive our
role can as simple as opening up their mind to the
concept of faith and of a God that can be known
and loved and nothing more.
day for a hospitalero starts at noon…
is the first thing Jose Luis told me when I arrived
in Tosantos. Around noon is when everything related
to the pilgrims who spent the previous night has
been cleared and cleaned away. It is when we have
30 minutes to an hour of mental rest. It is when
we transition from the beautiful personal moments
shared with other pilgrims (some of them sharing
the deepest hurts in their lives), the laughter,
the crying, the tension, and we reset our minds
so we can start again, fully present, for the new
pilgrims who are arriving. Even though the setting
was the same, everyday an entire new chapter in
a story would be born, with its new set of characters,
joy, sadness, and conflict.
will dearly remember the daily singing and how it
would always turn the room into a peaceful and holy
place. I will cherish the simple joy of laughter.
The degree of silly situations me and Jose Luis
got ourselves into would lead to uncontrollable
laughter at times. Jose Luis was like a wise grandfather
to me. Out of everyone I’ve ever met in my life
there are only two people I can say I regard as
saints living on earth, and he is one of them. Through
his presence, actions, and words I could see Jesus
himself. The effect this man had on pilgrims would
also be as powerful as it wouldn’t be uncommon to
see those who spent some time with Jose Luis be
moved to tears. Jose Luis has that ability to grasp
another person’s soul and shine light where it needs
it most. The greatest joy during my time in Tosantos
was that of witnessing hearts being changed and
eyes being opened. Jose Luis bestowed upon me a
responsibility over those pilgrims and their wellbeing
so that I could be, if only in a small way, an instrument
for God’s purposes.
the European Continent
would also be a lesson for my journey ahead. Between
travel experiences I would also need the time to
let go, to transition so I could become fully present
for what is to come. After Tosantos I would go to
the most exotic place I’ve visited so far. I would
go to a country in the continent of Africa, where
the Sahara desert resides, a Muslim country. It
would be my first “vacation” in this journey.
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