We arrived in Arthez on September 13th after a good journey from Liverpool via Bordeaux. It was great to meet with Peter, Carol, Barbara and Steve and so have news of what had gone on in previous days, and plenty of conversation over supper. In fact that turned out to be the night of the big storm. And although we tried to batten things down and bring stuff inside the house, the gazebo never recovered, and the diary and prayer sheets took several days to dry out.
Stephen celebrated Mass in the house the following morning. We continued in the house for Mass for the next day or two before returning to the tent. Carol joined us until she went home, and one of the neighbours came three times while we were there. We opened the tent each day but brought the icon, books, coffee and kettle into the house each evening being worried about the damage any further rain might do. During the second half of our stay the weather really improved and we had some beautiful, sunny, warm and even hot weather.
It is very worthwhile to be able to sit at the bottom of the path to welcome any pilgrims that pass. It seems that mornings are the favourite time to walk. Some even begin when it is still dark. The special thing this year was having figs to offer. We were able to gather so many each day from the tree in the garden and they were gratefully received by so many of the pilgrims. We left them in a box by the chairs when we were not sitting there and they were often taken! Many conversations began with the figs and continued with gratitude for the generosity of the owner of the house who allowed pilgrims to stop, rest the sore feet, eat figs, sit down, have a coffee, visit the toilet and then have a deeper conversation.
It seemed to me that more pilgrims knew of this Emmaus Centre than last year. Several arrived with the leaflet they had picked up in one of the Churches. There were the usual mixture of ages and nationalities with perhaps more English speakers than last year – Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders – as well as the Germans, Dutch and French who speak pretty good English too. Stephen and I managed some French, and the usual mixture of languages and gestures. A group of six Canadians stopped. They were part of a larger group of eighteen who were walking a raising money for charities back home who were supporting people with cancer. A number of young people are walking wondering about what to do with their lives, and taking the chance to meet people from other countries. That seems a really important motivation for many. They often spend the day walking alone at they own pace, thinking their own thoughts, and then spend the evening with others talking and getting to know each other. Sometimes these friendships develop. One older lady had befriended a younger one. They had been together for a month, walking at their own speed during the day and meeting up in the evenings.
We met a pilgrim who had been to the camp in Calais and was very concerned about refugees and asylum seekers. She was finding a sense of peace and the goodness of so many people on the Camino. She reminded me of how lucky we were to be here too. A young man was walking for “religious” reasons. He was sure God had a purpose for his life which was being gradually revealed to him. For myself, there are two ways in which being in Arthez on the Camino speaks to me. There is the sense of being available and accepting whoever and whatever God sends. I sit by the road and wonder who will come round the corner next. Then there is the sense of living in the present moment – enjoying the sun, the gentle wind, the birds singing and the stillness…. I look forward to next year.