By Marguerite Jill-Dye
I sat in the library of a great man whose vision has touched people’s lives all over the world. His name is Father Ernesto Bustio from Guemes, Spain, in the Province of Cantabria. His adjoining office walls and rafters were filled with shelves of slides, videos, photos, and DVDs of the people he’s met on four continents while working with the poorest of the poor. After theological studies, he began his work as a priest in a high mountain hamlet of illiterate shepherds in the Picos de Europa. Next he served Santander’s laborers on Spain’s northern coast. Following the French movement of priests serving the workers in the 1960s, he became a priest of the people. When Padre Ernesto began to travel abroad, his vision expanded to encompass the globe. When his Land Rover broke down in South America, he walked hundreds of miles through the Andes, helping the poor along the way. He grew to understood humanity’s struggles and the brotherhood of man.
Liberation theology became his calling and upon his return he founded nonprofit organizations to help Third World people. But some of his projects also reach out to help the poor and prisoners in Spain. For his great contributions to Spain and the world, Padre Ernesto was awarded the Gold Medal by the King of Spain.
Padre Ernesto’s other dream was to create a pilgrim refuge where seekers from various nations could gather to share their stories and inspiration. He expanded the house his grandfather built in Guemes in 1910. Little by little, the center became “Il Cabana del Abuelo Peuta.” Volunteers helped build it and now come to run the albergue’s dorms and meals, where Padre Ernesto teaches the way of liberation theology.
We arrived in time for a communal lunch of garlic soup and lentils. Conversation and red wine flowed freely at our long wooden table of pilgrims from Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, England, Chile, Japan, and Korea. That evening we 70 filled a round room to hear Father Ernesto’s life story; then he said the camino of life integrates values with a way of life. He spoke of the money, greed, and power that negate the golden rule. Whether believers, agnostics, or atheists, all that matters is our treatment of others: the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, and refugees.
My husband Duane and I have walked the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela, but now we are walking part of the Northern Route from Laredo to Covadonga. Known as “the cradle of Spain,” Covadonga is an ancient cathedral and monastery in the Picos de Europa mountains, not far from where Padre Ernesto taught poor shepherds to read and write.
Why risk falls, tendonitis, blisters, and exposure to walk this challenging path? Because it reminds us that we are one. We are inhabitants of one earth, and citizens of one world.
And so we continue to walk in the rain, along seaside cliffs on the Bay of Biscay, on beaches, through villages to Santander, to beautiful Santillana del Mar. We’ll visit the caves of Altamira where early humans painted in caves, then on to San Vincente de la Barquera and into the towering European Peaks. We’ll meet fellow pilgrims and find our way on a breathtaking, challenging pilgrimage across Spain.
Prior to beginning our Camino del Norte we left Barcelona a few days before the Catalán holiday, which became a massive demonstration of Catalán identity. But there is much division and opposition to the movement for Catalán independence among many Catalán, Spanish, and European people who are in favor of unity. On Oct. 1 the Cataláns will vote on a referendum for Catalán independence but the Spanish constitution states that it is illegal for a region to hold such a vote. Democracy, free speech, a history of repression, and retribution are being hotly debated in regional and national legislatures. It will be fascinating to witness the outcome firsthand of the referendum for Catalán independence.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.