Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is walking the 480-mile pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago despite, or maybe because of, the doubts she has about faith. Journey with her along this ancient path.

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July 3rd, 2012

A Birth, A Death, and a Christening


A puddle along the Camino.

Early in my Camino, I had a dream I was pregnant. In the dream, I was surprisingly okay with the idea. I say “surprisingly” because for most of my life I have not wanted to have children.

“Maybe it’s a sign of a new self that you’re birthing,” Mona, a fellow pilgrim, told me. “When you dream about birth, or death actually, they say it can be a sign of a big change — part of your old life dying and something new being born.”

Rain that Christens

That new life got its christening two days before I entered Santiago. It had been raining on and off the entire day, but not heavily enough to warrant me pulling out and pulling on my rain pants. Mona, Julie, and I sat in a cafe looking at our maps. We determined we had just about an hour to our destination for the day — a hotel. With real sheets. And fluffy towels. And maybe, if we were lucky, a hair dryer. We headed out again and it started to pour. I wasn’t going to put rain pants on over my already-soaked pants, so I just kept going. By the time we got to a tunnel I’d had enough. With defeat in my eyes, I slid my pack off and sat it in a dry spot. “I just need some time out of the rain,” I told Mona and Julie. And then the tears came. I was ready for this to be over — this day, this rain, this pilgrimage. Mona and Julie did their best to console me, but I told them to go on without me. I’d meet them at the hotel. Mona worried I’d catch hypothermia. As mothers, the two of them did not want to leave me. But I finally convinced them.

I cried for a few minutes longer. Threw my pedometer into the grasses outside the tunnel. Days ago it had started telling me I was closer to my destination than I really was. I didn’t need its reminder anymore. I felt bad about littering, but figured I’d make it up to the people of Spain somehow. I blew my nose into a sopping wet tissue from my drenched pants pocket. Twenty minutes after entering the tunnel, I left it. Walking out into the rain again, that’s when the idea hit me: this was my christening. Whatever new life I had growing inside me was now out in the world getting baptized.

But wait — what about the actual birth? The physical pain? Looking back now, I had a few ailments, but nothing akin to birthing a child. Thank you God. 

Ten minutes after leaving the tunnel, I came upon our hotel. Ten minutes? Really? I had a nervous breakdown and we were only 10 minutes away from a hot shower and dry clothes? Mona, Julie, and I shared a room and, after drying off and warming up, we shared one of the best meals I’d had on my Camino.

Arrival in Santiago

Light at the end of the tunnel with Mona.

The next day, after enjoying our first breakfast buffet, we walked five miles into Santiago. I’d already had the birth and the christening. What would my arrival in Santiago bring?

Rick was there to welcome us in the square in front of the cathedral. He had gotten there a few days ahead of me. He kept in touch via e-mail and I was touched that he was there to meet us as we entered. We had a celebratory drink at the Parador in the square (a monastery turned five-star hotel) and then worked on finding someplace to lay our heads. We ran into other pilgrims we’d met along The Way — two of whom recommended a Seminary-turned-hotel that had a special rate for pilgrims. It was across from a side entrance to the cathedral, but I would be in Santiago a full 22 hours before I stepped foot inside that cathedral.

The next day, Sunday, I planned to attend the noon Pilgrim Mass. There was great debate as to if they would swing the giant incense burner (the Botafumeiro) at the end of the Mass. Hundreds of years ago, they swung it every day to clear the air of the stench of the pilgrims. Now it was rumored that for a 300 Euro donation you could be sure it would be swung. 

Cathedral visit

At 10 in the morning on Sunday, June 18, I walked into the cathedral in Santiago for the first time. They were holding mass, but that didn’t stop hundreds of tourists from milling around and taking pictures. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that during mass, so walked out.

I returned an hour later to secure a seat. I saw Anne, a fellow pilgrim I’d walked with, in a front pew on the side of the church. She was with her daughter and granddaughter who’d flown in from Brussels to celebrate Anne’s completion of the Camino, which coincided with Anne’s 70th birthday.

I looked around to see seats filling quickly. “Sit here,” Anne said, pointing to the large stone base of a towering column. She’d been to two of these masses already and assured me no one would mind. “It’s the best place to see the incense burner, if they swing it,” she told me. Eventually other pilgrims from my journey joined us — Rick, Julie, Desiree. 

The mass started. It was all in Spanish so I just went through the motions. I made it until just before communion. Though I didn’t know Spanish, I knew enough to understand that the priest was giving his lecture telling the non-Catholics that they couldn’t receive communion, but could get a blessing. I waited until people started standing to receive communion and made my move toward the exit. I was done. I didn’t care if I didn’t see the incense burner swing. I didn’t want to be part of this. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying, “I have some bread to share, but only some of you can share it with me.” It’s one of many issues I’ve had with the Catholic Church. 

As I made my way toward the exit, I saw the entrance to the crypt where St. James’ remains are purported to be. Since I’d come all this way, I thought perhaps I should stop in and say a prayer. Maybe it would be quiet in there since most everyone else was waiting for the incense show upstairs. I walked down to find two people kneeling in front of the silver casket praying. Two others stood reverently behind them. Instead of crowding the small room, I stopped on the bottom stair, hoping this would signal the chatty people behind me to quiet down. It didn’t. When a spot became free on the kneeler, I slid in. I said a prayer of thanks and left. It reminded me of my Cruz de Ferro experience — not at all the solemn, sacred place I’d hoped for.

I walked out of the church and thought it would be fine if I never went to Mass again. If they weren’t going to welcome everyone to their table, I didn’t want to be part of it. If I’d experienced a birth and christening, was this a symbolic death?

I saw Rick later that day. “You seem a little down,” he said. “Is Santiago not what you hoped it would be?”

“Actually, it’s exactly what I thought.” I explained that I had prepared myself for this. I knew I’d felt uncomfortable in the big cities we’d walk through and figured Santiago would be no different. I longed for the quiet camaraderie of the trail. I also knew that churches filled with tourists didn’t do much for me. It was the small stone ones — not the large ones whose interiors were dripping in gold — that soothed me. “I knew this was about the journey for me — not the destination. And it’s been a great journey.”

New memories

If my experience in the cathedral at Santiago wasn’t the death, then death surely came a few days after my return to the states. The memory card fell out of my camera somewhere. All my pictures and videos of the Camino, as well as from the last two years of my life, were gone. This hardly upset me. I’m not sure why. Over the years I’ve uploaded pictures to Facebook and to my blog, so I knew I had some. Since I’ve returned, other pilgrims have e-mailed pictures they have of me and our journey together. Maybe this Camino was a lesson in letting go?

Yesterday I met my friend John for dinner. After sharing a meal together, we walked around town and in a store window I found two quotes by the Dalai Lama that spoke to me. They are the first two pictures I took on my new memory card.

This is my simple religion
There is no need for temples
No need for complicated philosophies
My brain and my heart are my temples
My philosophy is kindness

In the end what matters most is
How well did you love
How well did you live
How well did you learn to let go


Thank you to all who have followed me on this journey. May you all be blessed with the ability to “let go” today.

The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Kate

    Hi Becky,

    Just a thought on your thoughts on being pregnant. I put off having a child for years, becoming pregnant when I was 35. I thought somehow I would loose myself and my freedom if I had a baby– and babies… well, I never liked them all that much. But I found that in becoming a mother I became more “me” than ever I was before. My babies brought me joy and I found whole world opening up around me. Being a mother has been (and is still) a gift and it’s own amazing, incredible pilgrimage.

  • Dave

    My dad was a protestant for a long time Rebecca. Growing up I could never understand why he couldn’t take communion and it upset me a lot. I think later in life it was my own experience with my idea of the Eucharist that started to transform the way I saw us receiving it. I agree with what Mary Ann said. It’s not about exclusion, but a more authentic experience. Don’t do something if you don’t feel it in your whole soul. My dad asked me to sponsor him after being married to my Catholic mother for 25 years, he felt it was time for him to become Catholic. Just as you left the Cathedral because it wasn’t doing it for you, I feel like not taking communion is the same thing. It may surprise you, but I don’t take communion when I go with family or friends to protestant churches. I understand it means something different for them and I feel I would be disrespecting them and my own community by receiving it in a way that did not hold full meaning.

  • Deacon Bob Davis

    Becky, I’ve so enjoyed following your journey, but of course I’m disappointed at your decision about Communion. Maybe we can talk more – though I’m sure you’ve talked to others already – when we see each other next week.

  • Mary Ann

    Dear Rebecca,
    Your journey has been so open and honest. i can only thank you for sharing it. There is a wonderful saying: “You don’t go to Church because God is in the Church. You go to Church because God is in you!” Your feelings that your brothers and sisters were being excluded are the same as those faithful Catholics who wish all to come to know the True Faith. The priest was not “excluding” them from the table but instead saying because they do not believe in the True Presence the experience would not be an authentic one for them. It would be less than honest of us to arbitrarily offer The Eucharist to someone who is ignorant of Its meaning. I would like to believe that all those who came up for a blessing would receive the Grace to believe. You are right in saying that all should be welcome. i suppose i just see this practice differently than you do. To me the priest is saying “now we are going to experience the greatest most intimate Gift ever given or received. It is a moment so solemn and holy that everyone who comes up to receive must understand it to the best of our human ability.” In doing this the priest is paying homage to the Lord Our God and also letting everyone in attendance know that this moment is solemn and set apart for all eternity. i live in the hope that you will continue to question and listen and learn from all your life experiences but most especially my wish for you is that in reflecting on your camino, you will not deprive yourself of the Greatest Gift ever given.
    Shalom Rebecca
    mary ann

  • Patricia

    Rebecca, 1st thank you for sharing your personal journey in such a public way. From reading your posts I get the impression that it has been a physical and emotional journey for you. As Jane I am also a little sad that you have been left with such negative feeling about the Catholic Church. I do however have faith that you are on a path to something very special. I have learned that “Church” can be disappointing, but also very uplifting. I am also hopeful that you will look back and see this time as the fork in the road that will take you to something wonderful. God’s Blessings always and I hope to see more of your writing you truly have a gift please continue to share it!

  • Jane

    Rebecca I am sad for how you felt at the Cathedral and for your sentiments about the Catholic Church and on never wanting to go to Mass again but remain hopeful that your journey in life will unfold in a beautiful way and lead you to where God calls you….not the world. Be Blessed Always. Jane.
    p.s I love this quote from Blessed Mother Teresa…and thought you may too.

    “When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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