What the path means

Dear reader:

I have been on this journey since 20 March, this being the way I chose to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of my first pilgrimage on the Way to Santiago. This has taken me to three different continents (Europe, Africa and the Far East) and has enabled me to come into direct contact with thousands of readers, since the moment I decided that it was impossible to celebrate anything without their presence.

At Puente de la Reina I held my first autograph afternoon without any “official planning”, and since then I have managed to combine some organized meetings with other absolutely spontaneous ones. All these autograph-afternoons were followed by parties where together we commemorated the meaning that the path holds: encounters. To commemorate, celebrate, discuss, dance, and respect the mystery of life, but at the same time to understand that we are not alone in this mystery and that we need to share our enchantment with other people who understand our way of thinking.

On 19 April I created this blog together with Paula Braconnot, so that all these experiences could reach beyond physical space and enter virtual space as well. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Paula for her professionalism, love and dedication, which overcame all the technical difficulties.

My next stop before going back home will be Germany, where I will attend the World Cup as guest of FIFA. As I don’t think I will be able to say anything new about football, today I am bringing these texts to an end. Any comments will be most welcome, so that we can perfect the idea of having a blog for occasional conversations.

On 22 June, God willing, I shall be returning to my point of departure, the old mill in the Pyrenees, and right after that I go back to Brazil.

Every two weeks I send a newsletter to interested readers. Whoever wants to receive these can register a, which is available in some languages.

On one of my first stops on this pilgrimage, I found myself in a village in Spain. There I wrote the text below. I believe that, no matter where we come from, we can always reach far beyond what we imagined. This is the example that Francisco gave us, the example we should follow.

I dedicate this path to my readers. Many thanks for the support you have all lent me, and for the nights that I spent reading your messages, which always encouraged me to proceed on my journey. The meaning of the path lies in people, and we always see the world better when we allow the mystery of our encounters to be unveiled. As the last sentence in The Pilgrimage says: “people always turn up when they are expected.”

Paulo Coelho

Twenty years later: Francis

I am having coffee on the terrace of the hotel looking on to a castle, a gigantic castle in this little village with few houses in the province of Navarra, Spain. Night has fallen but there is no moon. I am repeating by car my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the first time I traveled this road.

The village where I find myself, however, is not part of the route, which passes about 19 kilometers from here. I planned to visit it, and here I am. Five hundred years ago a man called Francisco was born in this place. He must have played a lot in the fields that surround the castle. He must have swum in the river that runs close by. The son of rich parents, he left his village to complete his studies at the famous Sorbonne in Paris. I imagine it was his first long journey.

Francis was athletic, good-looking, intelligent and envied by all the other students – except one, who came from the same distant Spanish province and whose name was Ignatius. Ignatius said to him: “Francis, you think too much about yourself. Why don’t you dedicate yourself to thinking about other things, like God, for instance?” I do not know why, but Francis, the most handsome and bravest student at the Sorbonne, is convinced by Ignatius. They get together with other students and found a society which is the laughing stock of all the others, who even write on the door of the room where they meet: Society of Jesus. Instead of feeling offended, they adopt the name. And from that moment on, Francis begins a journey without return.

He goes to Rome with Ignatius and asks the Pope to recognize the “society”. The Pontiff agrees to meet the students, and in order to stimulate them he gives his consent. Francis – who was deadly afraid of ships and the sea – sets off alone to the Orient, imbued with what he considers to be his mission. In the next ten years he visits Africa, India, Sumatra, the Moluccas and Japan. He learns new languages, visits hospitals, prisons, cities and villages. He writes many letters, but none – absolutely none – makes any reference to “tourist” spots in these places. He comments only on the need to bring a word of encouragement and hope to those who are less privileged.

He dies far from the village where I now sit having my coffee, and he is buried in Goa. At a time when the world was immense, distances were almost insurmountable and people lived at war, Francis thought that he should consider the world as a global village. He overcame his fear of the sea and ships and solitude, because he was aware that his life had a meaning. While traveling through the Orient, he does not know that his steps will never be forgotten and that all he has planted will bear fruit; he is doing all this because this is his personal legend, the way he has chosen to lead his life.

Five hundred years later, in the city of Ahmedabad in India, a teacher asks his pupils for a biography of Francis. One of the boys writes: “he was a great architect, because all over the Orient there are schools he built and that bear his name.”

Antonio Falces, who directs one of these colleges, tells me he heard two people chatting:

“Francis was Portuguese,” said one.

“Of course he wasn’t. He was born and buried here in Goa,” answered the other.

They are both wrong, and they are both right: Francis came from a small village in Navarra, but he was a man of the world, and everyone considered him a part of their own people. Nor was he an architect specialized in building schools, but, as one of his first biographers says, “he was like the sun, which cannot move forward without spreading light and heat wherever it passes.”

I think of Francis: leaving here, traveling the world, making the name of this little village known in so many places that many people believe it is his surname. Facing his fears, giving up everything on behalf of his dreams – may this inspire and serve as an example to me, who studied in one of the colleges of the so-called “society of Jesus”, or S.J., or Jesuit schools, as they are known.

Here I am in the village of Javier. Both Francisco and Ignatius, who hailed from another small village called Loyola, were canonized on the same day – 12 March 1622. on that morning a banner was hung on one of the walls of the Vatican:

“Saint Francis Javier worked many miracles. But the miracle of Saint Ignatius was even greater: Francis Javier.”

You can continue to talk to Paulo Coelho through the blog Warrior of Light