In Saint-Jacques, French-speaking pilgrims warmly welcomed by Webcompostella

In Saint-Jacques, French-speaking pilgrims warmly welcomed by Webcompostella

Since 2015, French-speaking pilgrims who arrive in Santiago de Compostela have benefited from a specific welcome provided by the Webcompostella association. Martine Lamôré, responsible for this reception, takes us behind the scenes.

How was the French-speaking welcome born in Santiago de Compostela?

In 2014, a pilgrim named Anne-Marie, upon arriving in Saint-Jacques at the end of a long pilgrimage, experienced a lack: that of not being able to share with other pilgrims the teachings of this path, and to deepen the message of the apostle in the city where he is venerated.

On her return, she moved heaven and earth to create a French-speaking welcome in Compostela, notably by meeting representatives of the Church of France. The bishops of France, with the support of the archdiocese of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, then commissioned the Webcompostella association to open this reception, which was set up in 2015.

Are there other specific receptions in Compostela?

In 2015, there were two specific reception centers for pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela: English-speaking and German-speaking. None for French speakers! That is to say the French, but also some of the Quebecers, the Swiss and the Belgians. Today, in addition to these three receptions, there is a similar organization for Italians, Portuguese and Dutch.

How is the French-speaking reception organized?

Each year, we issue an invitation to collect applications. Which is no small feat! It is in fact necessary to form nine teams of three lay people and a priest, who take turns every two weeks in Compostela, from May 15 to October 31. That is, in all, 27 lay people and nine priests.

The criteria are as follows: candidates must have completed one of the Jacquaire routes and arrived in Compostela; be in good physical condition; be of Catholic faith (in particular to be able to participate in the preparation of services); have followed training offered by the association; love working in a team and living in a community, because team members live together in an apartment. And be motivated! Furthermore, the hosts are volunteers and take care of their own transport and part of their food, with the association providing accommodation and lunch.

What program do you have in store for pilgrims?

In the morning, at 9 a.m., a mass in French is offered to them. While the Chapel of the Kings of France, in the cathedral, is being restored, this service is being held in another chapel, located on Rua Carretas (n° 33), where you can admire the statue of a Pilgrim Virgin. This is also where the Pilgrims Reception Office is located (or Office of Acogida of the Peregrino) which delivers the compostelas (1). Then, from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., we receive pilgrims on the first floor of this building, around a coffee. At the end of this time of sharing, those who wish can meet a priest for a moment of discussion or to confess.

From 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., we offer another meeting, which invites deeper reflection around the sharing of personal experiences. A real listening school! Then at the end of the afternoon, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., we organize a spiritual tour of the exterior of the cathedral, which will help pilgrims reread their path: we introduce them to the symbolism of the architecture (statues , doors, tympanums, tower), let’s tell the story of Saint James the Greater and recall the rituals specific to the pilgrimage.

What do you do the rest of the time?

We too take our pilgrim’s staff! That is to say, we carry out marauding tours through the city, to make our welcome known to French-speaking pilgrims. There are also many logistical tasks to accomplish. For my part, I am responsible for relations with the cathedral staff, which takes up part of my time.

Are all the pilgrims welcomed Christians?

Not far from here! I would even say that the majority are not. But we welcome all pilgrims, whatever their motivation. However, they are generally open to the spiritual dimension. I remember a pilgrim to whom I asked: “During your pilgrimage, did you not have the impression that someone was walking near you? » And he answered me: “Yes, because everything came together so well along the way! »

I was also very touched by this other remark from a non-Christian pilgrim, who worked in catering. He had made the journey with one of his friends, without any religious motivation. And he pointed out to me: “Saint Jacques, deep down, he’s a bit like Jesus’ clerk!” »

Do pilgrims confide easily?

Yes, the exchanges are very deep. Pilgrims know that we only see each other once, and they can therefore confide their most intimate concerns to us, and sometimes impose very heavy sentences.

The priests are also very touched by these meetings: many tell us that they are experiencing the happiest days of their priestly life here. One of them left this message in our guestbook: “Men and women, by getting involved in the French-speaking reception teams in Santiago, and by carrying the responsibility for the entire organization, allow priests to be in their rightful place and, in doing so, to experience a real moment of renewal. »

Do pilgrims also entrust you with prayer intentions?

Many! We read them at mass in the morning, then we send them, at the end of each fortnight, to our network of “praying communities” (monasteries or religious congregations) in France, Quebec, Belgium or Switzerland. These communities also welcome us in their prayers, and thus accompany us in our mission. They are a bit like our guardian angels!

Do you notice an evolution in the profile of pilgrims?

We welcome more and more people, but believing pilgrims are in the minority. Most make this trip for non-religious motivations: for a sporting challenge, to have a great vacation, to get to know themselves better, etc.

We have also noticed, since the pandemic, that they are often more individualistic and therefore less open to others. However, they are, for the most part, searching, in quest. This is also the reason why they allow themselves to be seduced by the numerous syncretist proposals that they encounter along the way. Here too, we have a role to help them discern.

How many pilgrims do you welcome each year?

In 2019, we had the pleasure of welcoming 1986 French-speaking pilgrims, which represented 2.66% of French pilgrims (2) who arrived in Santiago and who collected the compostela (9248). This was the last reference year before Covid.

In 2023, the number of French-speaking pilgrims welcomed increased: we received 2,962, or 2.41% of the French pilgrims who arrived in Santiago (10,618).

Do you give them some advice for living after the pilgrimage?

Yes, because we all know that returning home is often a difficult time. We advise them to contact their parish and the local Jacquaire association. If they wish, we also provide them with the contact details of the religious communities with which we are in contact, some of which can welcome pilgrims on their return to help them review their journey.

The 10th anniversary of French-speaking hospitality is approaching. Are you planning to celebrate this event?

Of course! Two dates have already been set: March 21, in Puy-en-Velay; and September 28, in Paris. And we hope to be able to continue carrying out this mission for a long time! The messages we receive show us that it is an important stage in the pilgrim’s journey. Here are two examples: “I leave full of hope with avenues to explore”; “The French-speaking welcome is an essential step to finalize the path and close the parenthesis of our doubts”. Can we hope for better encouragement?

(1) The compostela is the pilgrimage certificate issued upon presentation of the stamped credential at each stage.
It is difficult to assess the figures for other French-speaking countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, because they each have two official languages.

To know more

Webcompostella website.

Address of the French-speaking reception in Santiago de Compostela: 33 Carretas Street.

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