(ETA: This post has been edited to include a REGISTRATION LINK for Laurie Dennett’s SECOND TORONTO CAMINO TALK. Please see the bottom of post for the link. The event takes place at St. Thomas Church in Toronto on December 7, 2019.)
This past Saturday we attended an event at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, put on by the TORONTO CHAPTER of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims. Laurie Dennett was invited to speak about her book A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE, but more especially about Don Elías Valiña Sampedro (1929-1989), the parish priest at O Cebreiro in the Galicia region of Spain, who almost single-handedly reinvigorated the Camino de Santiago in his lifetime.
Having myself recently returned from the Camino, and being enamored with O Cebreiro from my own two quick trips through the village nestled in the mountainous region of Galicia, Laurie Dennett’s talk helped to revive my fascination with it. It is in the village of O Cebreiro where the world famous author Paulo Coelho professes to have found the courage to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In fact, in his will he has given instructions for his ashes to be interred in the village.
There is something about reaching the apex that leads to the village of O Cebreiro that makes one become a lifelong devotee to its streets. From the ‘Lady of O Cebreiro’ statue found at the entrance, to the church and the quaint buildings throughout, one immediately gets a feeling. The village stands out on the Camino, calls you back. It is poetic justice that the parish priest of O Cebreiro is the one who revived the Camino Francés. As Laurie Dennett spoke about Don Elías wandering the Camino with a pail of yellow paint and paint brush, I could visualize the happy and hopeful priest making his way through hill and dale, forest and town, painting yellow arrows all along the way…forever hopeful that the spirit of the Camino take hold for current and future generations of pilgrims.
Whenever Don Elías was approached along the way, paintbrush in hand, either by bystanders or police, his response to their questioning as to why he was painting yellow arrows everywhere was always the same, “I am planning an invasion.” He didn’t live quite long enough to see his vision come true, but trust me when I say the invasion occurred. 308,064 pilgrims walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018. 301,036 in 2017. The numbers have been increasing yearly. Though this ‘invasion’ Don Elías spoke of was one of love, of longing, of searching, of finding. He knew that at the time. I imagine him winking at whoever he spoke to whenever he spoke of the invasion, but I don’t imagine he could have ever foreseen the sweeping magnitude of it. Pilgrims from all walks of life, from all over the world, follow his arrows every day. His legacy is powerful, and yet many of his followers do not even know the story of the parish priest from one of their favourite Camino stops along the way.
Dennett was most assuredly enamored by the priest, whom she had the good fortune to call friend and cohort. She too spreads word far and wide of the pilgrimage route held so dear to the heart of the now late priest. Perhaps, in her way, she is carrying on with the work he began as its ambassador. Perhaps all who walk the route are, in some way, ambassadors. I know that one of my wishes with my upcoming young adult novel, THE CAMINO CLUB, (October, 2020 from Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press) is that it persuades even one reader to put the Camino de Santiago on their life’s bucket-list.
Below are a few pictures Michael and I took of our extremely brief blip through O Cebreiro this past September, while we were making our way to Santiago de Compostela.
Laurie Dennett will be giving a second talk with the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims on Saturday, December 7th, 2019, this time at St. Thomas Church in downtown Toronto. If you’re in the Toronto area and have even the slightest interest in the Camino de Santiago, I suggest that you make plans to attend the event. Laurie’s first talk was mesmerizing. I thank her for bringing Don Elías Valiña Sampedro to life for me! And I am currently finding her book as mesmerizing as her talk. I look forward to hearing what else she has to say about the beloved Camino.
To learn more about the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, click on the image below:
To learn more about A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE visit WORDSINDEED. Or, you can attend the second talk and purchase the book there and have it signed by the author.