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Pilgrim blessing goes ahead at St James’s, Dublin, despite suspension of Camino activities

By Cian Molloy - 29 March, 2020

Despite the curbs on movement and travel because of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Camino season was launched

Two backpacks bearing scallop shells, symbols of the Camino de Santiago.

yesterday with a blessing of pilgrims at St James’s Church in Dublin city centre.

“This will pass, we will go on pilgrimage again when this is over,” said parish priest Fr Eugene Taafe, in a blessing broadcast on the internet via Church Services TV.

Normally, during the Camino season, pilgrim blessings occur at St James on the last Saturday of the month and the first blessing of the season is a big occasion, with many former pilgrims and volunteers attending the event. Usually, after the blessing, those who are about to depart for Spain are given scallop shells, symbols of the pilgrimage, to wear during their journey.

But this year, because of COVID-19, the pilgrimage has been suspended by the Spanish church authorities and, likewise, Fr Taaffe discouraged Irish pilgrims from attending yesterday’s ceremony in person.

“The doors of the church were, and are, open,” he said. “A few people turned up, locals, but most people were sensible and stayed away – instead, they tuned-in to watch the blessing via the internet.”

For centuries this parish has been linked with the Pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, where the remains of St James the Apostle are kept and venerated. Indeed, the Guinness factory next door to the church, the St James’s Gate Brewery, takes its name from the fact that since medieval times pilgrims have departed for northern Spain from this location in Dublin.

In recent years, the parish church has been home to the offices of the Camino Society of Ireland – formerly known as the Confraternity of St James – and it is here that pilgrims pick up their Credencial del Peregrino, or pilgrim passport, that must be stamped to show that they have walked over 100km of the journey to Santiago.

“Those who are involved in the camino are very enthusiastic and committed to it,” said Fr Taaffe. “It is like a bug with them. In fact, I think I have got the pilgrimage virus from them. I haven’t been on the camino, but it is on my bucket list to do it.”

The Parish Priest of St James’s says he believes there are many people who are stuck at home who are pledging to make the pilgrimage once the pandemic crisis comes to an end. He said: “When all this is over, there will be a lot of people who will want to make pilgrimages of thanks-giving.”

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