Trail Day 16: Catholic Mass and Bowling


Photo by: J W Foster

We are trying to make it a habit to attend evening mass every night while on the Camino de Santiago but in reality we’re averaging about once every 3-4 days. This is due to our busy schedules of collapsing in our beds from exhaustion and not having the energy to get back up or collapsing in a seat at the local cafe for tapas and free flowing Rioha wine.
For those of you who were raised Catholic it might not be as much of an event to attend evening mass on any evening of your choosing. For me, being raised Lutheran, my only experience with Catholisism was back in my teenage years when my best friend and I had to take his mom to Saturday night mass before we could go out partying. Elaine was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school….nuns, guilt, fear, hail Mary’s, all that stuff so it was pretty normal for her. So here I am going to mass, trying to blend in but it just doesn’t really work. First of all, the Spanish people tend to be shorter then us WASPs. When we stand up I’m about a foot taller than anybody else. Second, they know the routine, including Elaine. They know when to sing, when to pray, when to kneel, when to genuflect. Lastly, it’s in Spanish! I haven’t a clue what they are saying. Every now and then Elaine (fluent in Spanish) will lean over and say “Nicene Creed” or ” Lord’s Prayer” and I’ll shake my head ” Oh, OK”. So, where am I going with this? Well, I’ve found that going to mass gives me a whole lot of time for internal reflection. While everyone else is going through the liturgy I’m gazing around at the magnificent icons, architecture, alters and the people. It’s a wonderful time for me to just mediate on our lives and our direction for the future.
The people… they are mostly farmers and shop keepers and, just like in the States, mostly elderly. When they pray, I pray along with them and I feel such a sense of acceptance that they allow me, this obvious stranger, this foreigner who doesn’t understand a word they are saying, to come into their small village and commune with them, to worship with them. And then, without fail, we pilgrims are singled out for additional prayers and encouragement. It really is a religious experience.
We spent the other night in Villafranca Montes de Oca, a farming village with a population of about 200 people. It was getting close to 7 pm so we wandered down to the local church to find out about evening mass. As we entered the small church courtyard we found several elderly women congregating so Elaine asked them about the time for evening mass. She was told that the town was a little too small to support nightly mass so it was only on Saturdays and Sundays. These women were doing a curious thing, they were pulling out these tall wooden pegs and a wooden ball with holes in it. They then slide a couple backstops over in front of the church steps and set up the pegs. A few more women came wandering in and the next thing we know we are sitting in the middle of a game of “Bola”. It has got to be some original version of our ten-pin bowling. I guess it is a game just for women, because Elaine and Terry (one of our fellow pilgrims) were invited to join in while I was essentially ignored.

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