If I ever come back to France as a regular tourist it will be quite a shock. The pilgrim welcome or l’acceuil du Pélerin is a very special thing. Whether it comes in the formalized welcomes at the cathedrals of the larger cities or the simple exchanges with locals in villages, we are treated as honorees guests. For example,this morning I stopped to wait for Gord in the beautiful village of Leffonds. I found a shady spot in the main square and was immediately approached by a gentleman who wanted to know if I was going to Rome. He then offered me coffee or water. Soon his wife arrived and she asked if I needed anything and then continued to ask why I was doing the pilgrimage. I was honest and told her that although I am not religious there is something spiritual about these routes. They are much more than grande randonnes and somehow seem to help me gain a perspective that I need to live in our modern world. That answer seemed to be acceptable to her as she nodded with appreciation. Her husband then went inside to bring out the post card that they had received from another pilgrim who made it to Rome. After once more offering me anything that I needed, Gord arrived and we went on our way.
Tonight we are staying with the Priests at the Presbytery in Langres and again the welcome has been warm and generous. We have a room that looks out on the cathedral, a small kitchen and yes (reverent pause) a shower. For this privilege we have payed 10 euros. Now Langres is an expensive and touristy town. When we tried to book a hotel they were fully booked with the exception of a suite for 250 euros!! The pilgrim privilege however is about much more than the obvious monetary benefits – it is an genuine friendliness and respect that is given to us everywhere we go.
This is why I seem to be addicted to pilgrimages- for the daily reminders that people are good and humanity is an awe inspiring thing.
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