Martin Sheen, Medio Peregrino

Whatever the opposite of wanderlust is, I have it. But sometimes, I go against type.

During college, living in London for the summer, I’d seen a documentary about The Way of St. James, one of the top three pilgrimage routes in the Catholic faith. (Rome and Jerusalem are the other two.) Now, in addition to being not a traveler, I’m decidedly not Catholic, but I was fascinated by the possibility of walking the Camino. In 1996, I got a cheap flight to Paris, took a series of trains through France and into Spain, and started walking with two friends.

My radar is now permanently tuned to pick up stories of the Camino. Over the weekend, I discovered that Emilio Estevez has just debuted a film about it in which he directs his father, Martin Sheen. The Way follows a father walking the road after his son dies trying. (Go here for a more nuanced summary.)

Hearing of the film, I had that twinge of oh no that you feel when your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant gets a great review, or the quaint inn you discovered shows up on an episode of a public television travel show.

That passed, mostly because I’m quite certain the Camino can take care of itself, but partly because really, given the relative ease of traveling to exotic locations like Paris, Kenya, Singapore, or the South Pole, how many people are going to take a month-long walk across rural Spain? Even if there’s a movie about it?

Especially if even Martin Sheen, who actively wanted to do the walk, couldn’t find the time! In this great interview in Salon, he admitted:

I had about 10 days until I had to get back and start filming for the new season on “The West Wing.” We thought about doing it on horseback, but you’ve gotta take all your stuff and bring mules to carry it. We thought about renting bicycles. Finally we thought, hmm, we’ll do it the all-American way. We rented a car.

Ha! Medio peregrino!

Along the road, true pilgrims are those going on foot, by horse, or on bikes. True pilgrims are welcomed into the albergues, pilgrim refuges often built or sponsored by the Spanish government, sometimes by the church, mainly run by locals called to the task of tending to pilgrims.

Medio peregrino is a derogatory term for a faux pilgrims “walking” the road with a van carrying his or her bags, or staying in hotels and doing day hikes. The keepers of the rubber stamps at refugios will not anoint a medio peregrino’s credentials with ink—in fact, a medio peregrino should not have been able to talk his or her way into a pilgrim’s credential in the first place.

You have to earn your Camino.

So, yes, I was amused that Martin Sheen was a medio peregrino. But, I give him a pass, because he clearly understands the spirit of the road. I knew this when I read what he said to his son when encouraging him to do a movie based on the walk:

Emilio, man, this place is filled with miracles. It’s just magical out there, you’ve got to write a story.

I’m not a traveler, not a Catholic, and am decidedly not a big seeker of, or believer in, miracles. That a comment like that, from a star promoting a movie, rings true with me? Decide for yourself what that means.

I was doubly sold when Estevez admitted to stumbling across and taking inspiration from my favorite pilgrim’s account, Off the Road by Jack Hitt. I’ve bought this book at least five times, and keep giving it away to people.

I cannot wait to see the movie. Movies about things we love are often disappointing, but this was their Camino, not mine, so I’m not too worried. I’m looking forward just to seeing the road again, and I appreciate that Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen hugged the saint for me.

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