Monday, May 14, 2012

First Striking Witness: Jacques & Monique

You may have heard of the Knights Hospitaliers. Like other orders of fighting priests and friars formed in the time of the Crusades, their purpose was to protect pilgrims, most famously to Jerusalem but also on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The French term hospitalier is still in use here today. It refers to those who run refuges, simple places to stay the night, out of the reach of bandits.

The first two hospitaliers Marian and I met on our pilgrimage were Jacques and Monique Mullon, originally from Surgères near La Rochelle, France, but for the past three years serving as resident, voluntary hosts at Kaserna, a refuge in St. Jean Pied de Port (see photo) owned by the local Catholic parish. Jacques and Monique take their baptismal names from saints James (Santiago) and Monica (mother of Augustine). They were like beacons to us, signposts at the head of The Way reminding anyone who comes into their blessed circle of light that, despite the many anti-Catholic or anti-religious people we have already met, the Camino de Santiago remains an important form of participation in the Universal Body of Christ.

The Mullons are, I would guess, in their sixties, and they have four grown children. Jacques began his career as a teacher, then moved into sales. I gather that Monique was a full-time mother, but I am not sure about this. She was the devout Catholic in the family, he a confirmed atheist famous for not being able to carry a tune. When the family went driving together in their car, it was Monique who did all the singing.

On our arrival at Kaserna on Sunday afternoon, I was soon in conversation with Monique. I asked her what percentage of pilgrims to Compostela are vraiment religieux, genuinely religious. She told me that she makes no distinction between religious pilgrims and just pilgrims. “Le chemin vous fait pélérin,” she told me. The way makes you a pilgrim.

She illustrated this idea with a story about her husband, Jacques.

After their last child had left home, Jacques agreed to walk the Camino with Monique. It was the first trip they had taken together without children since their honeymoon many years before. The way made Jacques a pilgrim. As he put it over dinner on Sunday evening, he was struck by so many gifts and graces that he could no longer live believing that we are the source of our own goodness. He was baptized soon after he returned from the Camino, and in time Jacques was received into the Catholic Church.

At dinner, Monique took great pleasure in explaining that, as soon as Jacques became a Catholic, his tone-deafness was cured. He began to sing! She said that he had been listening to all the songs she had sung through the years, memorizing them. Now, out they came! She joked that her convert husband was rejuvenated once he was a Catholic, filled with energy that she found hard to keep up with. She made a hilarious French gesture with both arms, suggesting a very old woman trundling along behind her over-energetic husband.

In my Sunday afternoon chat with Monique, she said that she believes many so-called atheists have the seeds of conversion inside themselves. She told the story of Jacques’s father, another “confirmed” atheist. On his deathbed, her father-in-law refused to eat. Monique apparently had a way with him, and ordering some soup, she spoon-fed it to him. “Do you really believe that there is life on the other side?” her father-in-law suddenly asked Monique.

She replied, “The fact that you ask the question means you already know the answer.”

[NOTE: The next post in this series about my Camino is here.]

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying a lot your posts on the Camino de Santiago so far: hopefully they will become a book by you on your experiences in the Way of Santiago.
    There is also a parish refuge in Burgos that I recommend you (
    You are not far from Pamplona: you will cross the University of Navarra, run by Opus Dei (I belong to Opus Dei): you can ask in the Central Building for a tour there.



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