Paying to Pray?

Astorga, Spain

We have made it to possibly my favorite city on the whole Camino. Astorga is small enough that you can see everything that you want to see if around a day, but it still has a lot to do (including a Museum of Chocolate), is a city from the Middle Ages built on Roman ruins, and has an unmistakable charm. Less charming perhaps is the fact that we are staying in some sort post-apocolyptic hotel on the outskirts of town and that one or more team members keeps getting sick. First, Sidney was running a fever. Then, I broke out in hives and had a fever this morning. Don´t tell him, but I have declared it Jimmy´s turn to be sick next. I´ve been hit twice in a row. Despite this, we continue make steady progress toward Ponferrada and meeting up with our fourth team member on Sunday. There has also been additional sights of Tank Top Jesus. This time, he was getting thrown out of the Astorga Cathedral for trying to film without prior permission - big surprise.

However, it does make me thing of a disturbing trend that I have run into on the Camino - having to pay to pray. We go by a fair amount of churches in the course of the Camino. In fact, the Camino designers make sure that you at least walk by the main church in every small town. It would eat way too much into walking time to go by every church as we went, but we do make a point to at least go into the Cathedral along the route (Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, Astorga, and Santiago.) At the Astorga and Leon Cathedrals, they use the common practice for supporting an ediface with a lot of cultural hertiage and a very small active congregation of charging admission. The fee has not been crazy - 3 to 5 euros. On the surface, I´m not bothered by it. There is a lot that goes into maintaining something that big that has stood for that long. In fact, I appreciate the opportunity to supporting their continued existence. However, at least in my memory, there used to be a side chapel where one could go and pray for free. It was usually less scenic than the rest of the building but was a least a reminder that despite also operating as a museum, it was still an active church dedicate to things like worship, prayer, and the sacraments. Jimmy and I spent some time taking picture inside the Leon Cathedral, when we exited, I wanted to go pray in the side chapel away from loud tour groups with their blairing bullhorns. I followed sign to what used to mean the free side chapel and was disturbed to find that one could only access it for free during mass. Naturally, this led to me mouthing off, unproductively, at the attendants. I hoped that this would be an isolated problem, but it wasn´t. Astorga also only had a free option during Mass and no side free side chapel. Not to go off on a rant, but while I respect the need to pay the bills, there should be some indication that these are active houses of worship. In working in churches, I often find myself uttering the words ¨this is not a museum.¨ What does it say when a great and historical church has no free space to pray? 

I continue to fail at posting pictures, but I hope to have some up on Sunday. In the meantime, Sidney and Jimmy have a Facebook album that you check out. Thanks so much for your comments thoughts and prayers.

Bueno Camino,