Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Spokane priest publishes account of pilgrimage in Spain
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Jan. 17, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
Msgr. Kevin Codd has published To the Field of Stars, an account of his pilgrimage in Spain. (IR file photo)
Next month, the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, of Grand Rapids, Mich., will publish a new book by a priest of the Diocese of Spokane, Msgr. Kevin Codd. Msgr. Codd is currently on sabbatical in the Philippines, helping with parish ministries, after serving from July 1999 until July 2007 as Vice Rector, then Rector, of the American College of Louvain, the seminary in Belgium where he studied prior to ordination as a priest.
Msgr. Codd responded by email to interview questions from the Inland Register.
Msgr. Codd’s book, To the Field of Stars, is based on a pilgrimage he made during the summer of 2003, walking the Camino (“road” in Spanish), which he describes as “the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (in Spain), the traditional burial place of the apostle St. James the Greater.” He had heard of this famous pilgrimage ever since his years as a theology student at Louvain.
“The idea of walking across Spain, as so many people in the Middle Ages had done, seemed very attractive to me,” Msgr. Codd said. After his return to Louvain in 1999 to serve as Vice Rector, Msgr. Codd said that the idea of making this pilgrimage remained only an idea, because during his summer vacations he returned to Spokane to be with his elderly, ailing mother and the rest of his extended family. “After her death in November, 2002,” Msgr. Codd said, “I realized that for the fist time I might actually be able to remain in Europe during my summer break and finally make this pilgrimage become a dream come true.”
At the end of the academic year in July, 2003, Msgr. Codd traveled by train from Belgium to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small town on the French-Spanish border. From there he began a walk of about 500 miles across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. “Even as I was walking,” the priest said, “I knew something extraordinary was happening to me.”
The experience of making this long pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims who have the made the same walk since Medieval times was, Msgr. Codd said, “an experience that was deeply touching on every level of life: social, spiritual, physical, vocational. The cast of characters who were a daily part of my life made for a lively and fluid community to be a part of along the Camino. The solitude gave me plenty of time for prayer and for taking stock of my life as a priest.”
From the beginning of his pilgrimage, Msgr. Codd kept a daily journal in which he recorded his experiences and feelings, and that journal later became the basis for his book, To the Field of Stars. “Some months after completing the pilgrimage,” he said, “I began to reread my journal; I felt there was something special in its pages worthy of sharing, so I then took the following Christmas vacation to begin writing. I showed the results to a couple of good friends, and they thought the (manuscript merited publication).”
Over the years, numerous articles by Msgr. Codd have appeared in magazines and journals, but getting a book published was something else again. He finally found what he calls “a very good and enthusiastic publisher,” the Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. “It is really wonderful,” the newly published author said, “to see the book finally coming out.”
Msgr. Codd’s new book is as much about the spirituality of making a pilgrimage as it is about his own trek. “The religious concept of pilgrimage is one common to many spiritual traditions,” he said, “and is one that is present in most cultures and societies, so it is not exclusive, by any means, to Christianity. But it certainly found a profound place in the Catholic-Christian tradition in medieval Western Europe. Making a pilgrimage to one of the great cities of Christianity became a pillar of the devotional life for medieval Christians. Besides Jerusalem and Rome as destinations, hundreds of thousands of medieval Catholics walked to Santiago de Compostela, the traditional burial place of St. James the Greater.
“Why did so many believers make the extraordinary sacrifices and take the high risks to life and limb involved in these long treks across Europe?” Msgr Codd continued. “I think they did it because the experience transformed them. It was the medieval version of a renewal movement like the Charismatic Renewal or Cursillo; these pilgrimages were a sort of ‘School of the Gospels’ for them. They found their lives changed, their spiritual lives renewed, their experience of Jesus Christ deepened, their prayer, especially in the Eucharist, enriched. Maybe most powerfully, they found the prayers and intentions they brought to St. James answered.”
The same experience, Msgr. Codd said, is what he found on his own pilgrimage across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. “It was remarkable,” he said, “to find the reality of the Gospel stories of Jesus come to life out on that difficult road. Walking as Jesus walked led me to know Jesus much more profoundly and love him more dearly. I met people whose faith and religious commitment had been minimal, but out there they rediscovered their faith and returned to active participation in the church. Miracles happen on that road. The big intention that I carried with me to James was answered, clearly and without question in my mind.”
It’s difficult, Msgr. Codd said, to choose just two or three from the many extraordinary experiences he had while on pilgrimage. “One that stands out,” he said, “was an evening in the beautiful city of Burgos. I and the other pilgrims were settled into the pilgrim hostel set up in the park outside the center of the city. A large circle of pilgrims, myself included, found ourselves sitting on the lawn chatting over the day’s walk. Food began to be shared and passed freely from one to another: bread, cheese, olives, chorizo (a pork sausage spiced with garlic, peppers, and juniper berries and smoked and dried), even watermelon. The same with wine: corks were pulled and the bottles passed around, everyone just taking their sips directly from the bottles as they came to them. It was just beautiful to see and be a part of. It reminded me of Jesus and the apostles when they fed the multitudes in Galilee. That is just one example of what I mean by coming to know Jesus better on the Camino.”
Another experience Msgr. Codd had on his pilgrimage “probably,” he said, “falls into the category of ‘miracle.’ One morning outside the city of Astorga, I and my fellow pilgrims were caught in a violent thunder and lightning storm. We were on an empty plain with no place to seek refuge or take cover. As the lightning strikes drew closer and closer, I became very frightened, terrified actually. I remembered that James (‘the Greater,’ in Mark 3:17, is one of the two Jameses that Jesus names) ‘Sons of Boanerges,’ or ‘Sons of Thunder,’ so I prayed rather fervently that he would do something to get us safely through this mess. To my amazement and awe, the clouds above slowly split into two distinct cells, each going in different directions, opening up a storm-fee zone ahead of us through which we pilgrims passed unharmed. A happy coincidence perhaps, but from a pilgrim’s point of view, it sure felt like a miracle, a prayer answered.
“Last year,” Msgr. Codd said, “I was reading a very funny book, written by an Englishman, about his own pilgrimage to Compostela accompanied by a donkey, and later by his family, as well. When I got to the part of his journey outside of Astorga I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this is where I had my storm miracle.’ As I read on, I was simply amazed to read that he, too, encountered a frightening electrical storm in the very same place as our storm. Even more astounding was that he too found deliverance much as we did. Not much of a believer himself, his little daughter explained it to him by telling him that their safe passage through the storm was the work of God. I was thrilled.”
Msgr. Codd also learned some lessons on his pilgrimage that came in handy later on. “It taught me more ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ and (the importance of) keeping a long-range view of things, especially when the present moment is particularly difficult. That was very helpful in completing my doctoral work.
That lesson applies to most aspects of my life. I do believe that the pilgrimage made me a much better human being, Catholic, priest, seminary rector, and, hopefully, pastor. This pilgrimage deepened my spiritual and religious life more than words can ever express. I know Jesus better than I did before. I think I trust him more in my life. I came to love creation and the Earth under our feet in a new way. I have more awareness of humanity’s fundamental goodness. The ‘communion of saints’ is a much more important aspect of my faith than it was before.”
At the same, time, Msgr. Codd observed, the experience of making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela “made me much more aware of my own weakness and frailty as a human being and believer. One of the things that happens on the Camino is that one’s weaknesses, physical, spiritual, and moral, become very evident. I had some tough moments out there; I disappointed myself sometimes. I failed at certain moments to be the kind of man I would like to be. But that awareness was balanced by a deepening sense along the way that I was being led and carried, that forgiveness was available to me, that I was growing in spite of my failings. Coming to know God as a loving, merciful and strengthening Father was a big part of my pilgrimage experience.”
Looking forward to the publication of his book, Msgr. Codd said, “I hope my own story as told in To the Field of Stars captures in words the deep richness of the pilgrim’s life on the Camino, both in the particular details of daily life and in the more reflective passages…. I really hope the book makes the Camino experience more accessible to its readers and that by walking along with me through the book their lives are enriched as mine was…. I would be happy to hear from those who do read the book; I would profit from knowing what they think about it, how they experienced it.”
(To the Field of Stars is scheduled for release in March in softcover from Wm. B. Eerdmans; $18. Msgr. Codd can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com)