These “welcoming” come from all over France and even beyond. Like Rosemarie Kuhar, an American from Georgia dedicated to English-speaking pilgrims. “I don’t speak French but I learned on the Way that understanding each other is not just a matter of languages. Because everyone has walked it at least once, that’s the rule for serving within these walls. Four journeys for Christian: “I did it from Vézelay, Puy-en-Velay, the Arles route and the French Way…
These “welcoming” come from all over France and even beyond. Like Rosemarie Kuhar, an American from Georgia dedicated to English-speaking pilgrims. “I don’t speak French but I learned on the Way that understanding each other is not just a matter of languages. Because everyone has walked it at least once, that’s the rule for serving within these walls. Four journeys for Christian: “I did it from Vézelay, Puy-en-Velay, the Arles route and the French Way. »
“It changed my life. It gave me time to ask myself, to think about what makes sense, what is really important”
Compass and IGN era
Everyone has their reasons for walking. A question mark often punctuates them. “Like everyone else, I wonder, I have questions,” breathes the Limougeaud. Rosemarie followed in the footsteps of the apostle four years ago. “It changed my life. It gave me time to ask myself, to think about what makes sense, what is really important, about people. »
It does not claim an act of faith. Marie-Noëlle Larricq, yes. “I am Catholic, I am a believer. I made the pilgrimage from a spiritual point of view. 19 years ago already. His presence behind the offices of the association is another way of “giving thanks”. To the God who is his and “to all those who have helped me on the Way”. In a less marked time, Cretaceous hiking, compass and IGN: “There weren’t cell phones like today, apps like ”Yum yum sleep” to find accommodation or a table. Even less GPS. »
These crutches will never replace the shared experience. “We are here for that, with our experience of the Way, we try to put the pilgrims in good conditions to leave. We make life easier for them, we avoid mistakes. “Les Amis” provides plans and advice, an extremely detailed and up-to-date directory of services for each stage. Above all, the famous “credantial”, Saint James passport to be stamped according to its progress. “Take a shell”, invites the Paloise. A small pile of the seashell is waiting in a corner of the welcome to dangle at your bag.
Not too heavy, the gear. “We see people with no experience who are not always aware of where they are getting involved. We have a scale there. Some are offered to weigh their bag. We advise against more than 8 kilos for a woman and a maximum of 15 for a man. “It’s up to you, but…
Marie-Noëlle saw “flame” attendance on the Way, classified as World Heritage by Unesco in 1998. And popularized eleven years earlier by the “bestseller” by Paulo Coelho, “The pilgrim of Compostela”. The French Routes to Compostela Agency recorded more than 347,000 pilgrims in 2019, before the Covid. They were… 3,500 in 1998.
The Friends of Saint-Jacques association in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port has existed since 1991. It is a branch of the French Society of Friends of Santiago de Compostela, founded in 1950. “Our first job, at the origins, was to open most of the paths in the department”, recalls the president of the association, Bertrand Saint-Macary. “We did historical research for this and we marked it up. Very quickly, the Friends turned to welcoming pilgrims. They founded the Saint-Jeannais municipal refuge, which they manage. “Our volunteers welcome you there 365 days a year, from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., sometimes even 10 p.m. We have 200 people who are committed to the pilgrims, they give their all. Some volunteers come from abroad to help. » Typically one-week assignments. They are fed at noon and housed above the permanence. The association has also founded refuges in Bayonne, Saint-Palais and Mauléon.
And God, in all this? Hikers probably take precedence over pilgrims. Marie-Noëlle observes him without really being moved: “Perhaps there is less spirituality, but while talking, people tell you about a sick friend, someone for whom they walk. ” A cause. A dimension superior to the simple fact of swallowing kilometers. “Something more, beyond you, something important. The volunteer mentions this American couple, who came to get their credential the day before. “They came back the next day to have a wooden box stamped. I understood afterwards that it was an urn…”
Christian is “not practicing”, he places the Way in “a human approach”. He “met the disease” and had promised himself: “If I get out of it, I will go to Compostela. For my health, it was good to walk. But little by little, the physical activity side fades. I found the Other, different cultures. »
The whole world
Marie-Noëlle tends the table of frequentation of the places, classified by nationalities: 33 countries appear, including South Korea, New Zealand, Colombia… “I have the world in the same room! “, she enthuses. “On the way as at this office, we meet so many people, all these existences. They all have a life other than ours, says Rosemarie. We end up touching what we have in common and that we would not have thought to share. How not to come out changed? »
This relationship to the other, Marie-Noëlle can summarize it with one anecdote, among millions. It is the story of an Israeli woman who “met a girl she really liked”. “That was two years ago, before the pandemic complicated things. These two women had not exchanged contact. I saw the Israeli again this year here. She started trail running, she makes the way running in the hope of finding her friend! Maybe we should believe in miracles.