Posting 19: 12/09/2006 Roscoff
"I'm sitting in a railway station,
with a ticket to my destination"
So starts a song recorded by Simon & Garfunkel in the 60's (who's showing their age then?).
Well I'm sitting in a 'boat station' with a ticket to my destination. In the aforementioned song, the pair are singing about wanting to be 'Homeward Bound' whereas I am homeward bound albeit by a roundabout route via Cornwall!
I said I would do a proper posting after my arrival in Rome so here it is.
After Viterbo I said goodbye to the Italian girl - she was taking a different route to me and I knew she would arrive ahead of me. I subsequently met a Slovac chap but we also parted company and he too arrived in Rome the day before me. Eventually I arrived in La Storta the 'last stop' before Rome. It had been hot and a relatively long walk. The instructions advised that the way marked route should not be taken as a bridge had been washed away by a landslide. The alternative route was not way marked and guess what? I ended up in someone's front garden again! This time the gates were open and there was a big white dog warning me not to go any further. So I chatted to him for a moment or two, just to say I wasn't a threat then turned to retrace my steps. The dog decided he fancied a stroll down the Via F as well so he accompanied me. I thought he would turn back after about a km but no - he was obviously enjoying himself. Every now and then he would stop and wait for me to catch up. I started to have visions of reaching the town with this dog stiil ín tow' so to speak and having to go to the local police and say 'please can you take this dog back to his owners'. Not sure how I would have been received! In the end I had to tell him to go home. He looked so hurt!
I continued and after finding my way into a farmyard and being shown the correct path by the farmer, I was back on the way marked Via F and arrived in La Storta.
By now I was obsessed (yet again) by laundry issues and really wanted to get my clothes washed. Consulting my guide notes I realised the accommodation marked for La Storta was a couple of km's back down the Cassia (SS2) and I was not about to go in a direction away from Rome. I pressed on and suddenly saw a hotel sign. "Í'm going to take it" I thought to myself. Unfortunately it was 3* but in fact not wildly expensive. So got clothes washed OK but also did something I had meaning to do for months. I think I mentioned in one of the very early postings that I met an American lady who had given me a little white heart-shaped button. I had meant to sew this on to my long-sleeved shirt but then I hadn’t worn the shirt since Spain as it was too hot. I had decided I should sew the button onto the front of my ‘bum bag’ but somehow I had never quite got round to it. Anyway I couldn’t possibly walk into Rome without it on full display so I sat and sewed it on (and yes, I was carrying a little sewing kit with me too!).
Next morning was on road by 6:20 and plodded along mostly on pavements. Listened to music. Head was down and nearly missed the town sign saying 'Roma'. As I saw it I thought "Oh my God I'm there", although I knew I still had several km's to walk. I was only in the suburbs. But still it was an emotional moment. As I continued, my feet and hips started to object for some reason. I decided I would stop at the next likely looking cafe. After a short time I saw a Church with an open door. I hesitated for a moment, but normally I don't pass an open Church without visiting so in I went. There were several people there so I knew Mass was probably about to start. I said my prayers and was just about to leave when the priests came out. Again I hesitated. Then I thought to myself "What is this? I am willing to stop for a coffee but not Mass?" So I stopped for Mass. Then, as I was unsure whether I would be successful in seeing the person necessary to register my arrival in Rome that day, I asked for a stamp for my Pilgrim Passport. I really wanted a record of the actual day I arrived in Rome. This is because when I arrived in Santiago in 2004, I didn't go to the Pilgrim Office at the right time so my 'Compostele' has the wrong date on it!
I was really glad I went to Mass. It was a lovely way to start my visit to Rome and had a strangely calming effect on me. So I continued on my way and eventually arrived in St Peter's Square.
I stood there blinking in the sunlight. It was quieter than I expected for which I was grateful. Ï'm here." I thought. "Ï'm free. I can go anywhere I want."
There was quite a queue to get into the Basilica and I had heard you can't get in with a rucksack so I decided to try and get the Testimonium. I wanted to arrive as a pilgrim, with shell, staff and rucksack. So off I went. I knew that many people had had difficulty with this but amazingly I was admitted to Vatican City and then taken to an office where I met a lady who asked about the reasons for my pilgrimage. We spoke for a while and she stamped my Pilgrim Passport and gave me my Testimonium. After this I made my way to where I would be staying for the next 5 nights.
The next few days passed quickly. My main pre-occupation was to fulfil the promise I had made to many many people to light candles for them. To my consternation I discovered I was not able to light candles in the Basilica of St Peter. In fact I had the devil's own job (if you'll pardon the expression) of finding a Church at all where I could light candles. In the end I 'phoned a friend' again, in this case a Priest that I knew was very familiar with Rome. His advice was spot on and in fact the following day when I tried again to fulfil my obligations, every Church I went into had a candle stand. I later sent him a postcard asking if he had had a word with 'the man upstairs' on my behalf! Anyway I did manage to light all the candles and pray. Many of those I prayed for will receive a postcard from me but there were some whose contact details I do not have so in the next few days I will write another posting listing them in the hope that they read my words.
During my time in Rome I had the good fortune to meet and be able to thank in person the lady who is the President of the Association of Via Francigena and who puts in a huge amount of work on the project. I was also given a guide of the best parts of Rome by another member and supporter of the Association. But most important of all I had the opportunity to meet the Priest who usually greets pilgrims who walk to Rome. He had not been there when I arrived for my Testimonium. We talked a bit about the journey and he invited me to write a few words in the Pilgrim Register that he keeps. I wrote
"I am an Irish pilgrim who walked for 5 months from Santiago de Compostela to Rome. I arrived in Rome not on my strength but on the strength of God and all the people who prayed for me and wished me well."
This I mean with utmost sincerity. It is not my triumph. If it hadn't been for Ashleigh updating the web site, then you would not have been able to read my postings. If you hadn't read them, you would not have written to me. If you had not written and if I had not met those kind people en route, and if I did not have the prayers from the friends I left behind I am sure I would have given up. It's maybe boring but I cannot overstress how hard it was at times, how lonely I was, how much my feet hurt, how tired I was. But always something would come to help when I was down. As I wrote before it might be a text, an email, a kind word from a stranger, a promise to pray for my from another. This was how I got to Rome and the Pilgrim Register in Vatican City is a record of that fact.
Rome is a very large city and I felt acutely the need to be somewhere quiet and peaceful so after lighting the candles and praying and writing postcards I took myself off to a Trappist Abbey in Brittany for a few days. It was just what I needed. So now I wait for my boat to Plymouth after which I shall go to Perranporth in Cornwall to St Piran's Oratory where my very first pilgrimage began.
And what next? I don't know. I stopped work in order to do this pilgrimage so I will be looking for work again. And another pilgrimage? Again I don't know. I doubt if I will ever do anything on this scale again - but then after I walked the Camino del Norte I said I would never walk anywhere else again! I do know that I will make a pilgrimage to Santiago (perhaps for just a few weeks, not necessarily all the way from the French border) because I feel the need to give thanks to God and St James for protecting me. Many people asked me en route if my next walk would be to Jerusalem. I thought about this at length and have decided that it would be too dangerous to do alone.
In the meantime, to those who have enjoyed reading my tale but who have not donated,
please please please
consider donating to one or both charities and help my journey make a difference.
the Irish pilgrim who walked for 5 months to get to Rome