Tuesday, March 10, 2009

a terrific camino gathering in toronto

Last weekend saw the closing of the Toronto run of the "Sacred Steps" exhibition and the opening of a new chapter in the story of Toronto's Company of Pilgrims. "Sacred Steps" was an unqualified success -- an eye-filling, soul-warming array of art and photography curated by veteran pilgrim and Camino nut, Professor George Greenia of the College of William and Mary, and laid out with loving attention by Saint James Cathedral archivist, Nancy Mallett. A special feature of the Toronto show was a tribute to our two most celebrated Camino artists, Oliver Schroer and Lupe Rodriguez, both of whom succumbed to leukemia in 2008. The tribute to Oliver came in the form of a display of photographs by Peter Coffman, his pilgrim companion, while one wall of the cozy St James gallery was given over to three of Lupe's bold Spanish landscapes.

February's opening ceremony, held in the Cathedral, brought out a crowd of 350, a tribute to our city's growing Camino-awareness. But equally impressive was the turnout for the show's final weekend, which doubled as a meeting of the revived Toronto pilgrim chapter. English-Canada's original Camino group had been dormant since long-time movers and shakers Barb and Anthony Cappuccitti took a well deserved retirement last spring. But now, thankfully, Pat Sayer and a new team have stepped up to the plate. One-hundred-and-fifty seats were filled for Saturday's meeting, hopefully a sign of many more good things to come.

No one went away disappointed either, as pilgrim-author Guy Thatcher talked us through his Camino, and George Greenia (above) offered up an address that was part heart-felt ode to the Camino, part a medievalist's take on where the contemporary pilgrim experience departs from the traditional. If Guy's presentation at the meeting is any indicator of the quality of his book, it must be a great read - straightforward, unpretentious, digressive in a good way, just thoughtful enough, gently humourous, and with lots of colour photos. The title says it all: A Journey of Days: Relearning Life's Lessons on the Camino de Santiago.

Incidentally, if you're not hooked into Canada's ever-growing network of Camino groups, check out santiago.ca, where you'll find announcements of gatherings from BC to New Brunswick.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

i'm back!

And you probably never even noticed I was gone. But I was. Four wonderful weeks in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Great food, friendly people, dreamlike landscapes, thrilling overnight bus rides and - ah, the heat. Stole an extra month of summer this year.

But we're back to Canada now, to see winter through to the bitter end.

I could go on about the beauties of South America, the beaches, pampas, vineyards, hot springs, and blue lakes sleeping at the foot of smoke-puffing volcanoes. Or about the human wonders: the cafes of Buenos Aires, Carnaval in Montevideo, Valparaiso's polychrome houses... But what I'm going to tell you about instead is a saint I discovered while I was away, a saint you may never have heard of before, but who may prove worth knowing. His name is San Expedito - Saint Expeditious - and there is a special devotion to him in Chile, where I found this altar to him, in the Mercedarian church in Santiago.
According to legend, Expedito lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor. He started life as a pagan, but when he heard the gospel, he resolved immediately to convert to Christianity. The Devil spoke in his ear to dissuade him from this path. "Think it over first," said the Evil One. "Do it tomorrow." But Expedito replied, "No. I will become a Christian today." Which is why he is prayed to as the patron saint of just and urgent causes, and why he has that little cross in his hand bearing the Latin word "hodie" - "today."

So if your problems can't wait till tomorrow, call on Expedito, the Fedex of patron saints!