From the Bronx, New York City, and all over the country, students and faculty are converging today in León, Castile, Spain, for Fordham’s trek along the Camino de Santiago to the shrine in Santiago de Compostela. We will begin walking in Spain on Thursday, 26 May, but for everyone the pilgrimage has begun already, in hikes along the Hudson and across the Brooklyn Bridge, in occasional classes, and in our individual journeys. Louisa Foroughi and Rachel Podd, our excellent junior colleagues, spent an exhilarating weekend in Burgos and have wandered with me to Leon. Fresh from commencement and receiving her well -earned doctorate from Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion, DOCTOR Alexandria Egler has now arrived as well.
For me, this Camino started nearly a year ago, with the end of our last trip to Spain and the conviction that this course represents a good opportunity for students and faculty alike. I mark the actual beginning, though, neither in New York nor Spain, but in Munich, Germany. Strange as that seems, the Way of St. James (Jakosbsweg) goes through Germany and Munich’s St. James Square (Sankt Jakobs Platz). In that square, the city and the Jewish community of Munich in 2006 dedicated the new synagogue Ohel Jakob (Jakob’s Tent) to replace the temple deliberately destroyed in the Pogrom of November 9, 1938, known to some as “the Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht). As feeble as it might seem after such devastation, the dedication represented an attempt both to remember and somehow to restore the vibrant Jewish community in the city.
The synagogue stands now in the center of the square and next to the Catholic Church of St. James (Sankt Jakob), also rebuilt after being destroyed by American and British bombs in World War II. The two buildings remind us of our good fortune—our luck–in being able to choose, freely, to walk along the Way. For much of human history, peoples have been forced to wander and migrate—to undertake forced pilgrimages to unknown lands and unwanted fates. Whether of Africans ripped from their homes and shipped across the Atlantic in the seventeenth century, or Jews hauled in train cars to work and death camps in the twentieth, migration and wandering have been a common part of human experience and misery.
The photograph of Ohel Jakob reminds us of that experience. Elsewhere in Munich, there is a statue dedicated to another forced pilgrimage—the prisoners of Dachau, scattered with the camp’s closing in the last days of the war in 1945, found their way together back to a battered and blasted city.
Today, a new forced migration has brought wave upon wave of unwilling pilgrims to Europe, to Germany, and yes, to Munich, where their final reception, though a credit to the city at least for now, remains uncertain.
For us, meeting in Spain, the burden we FREELY CHOOSE is not merely the packs on our shoulders. It is also the burden of remembering and acknowledging our common experience, in the tenth century as well as in the twenty-first. And my three wonderful colleagues and I hope we will recognize that the true Way is not a gravel road, but compassion, and the goal is not a church of brick and mortar, but charity.
Ich bin dann mal weg—I’m off!