José de la Riera is a good friend of the Fundación Jacobea, ex-president of AGACS, pilgrim, researcher, writer and even bagpiper, responsible for the recovery of many historical itineraries -especially the Portuguese Way- and promoter of the Via Mariana. Today he is one of the most active managers of the FICS (International Fraternity of the Camino de Santiago).

– The FICS has been one of the fastest Jacobean institutions to act in confronting the crisis that we are experiencing with the Coronavirus virus. You have reacted very rapidly in disseminating information on social networks that, although many resist, are the most lively and up to date spaces of the Camino …

– What we have done is aim for the practical. A group was created with FICS executives, with people like José Almeida (Zamora) who coordinates his network of reception of shelters, Rebeca Scott who deals with the subject of hospitaleros around the world and its president Juan Carlos Pérez Cabezas … There were many Jacobean institutions that collaborated, such as the Association of Municipalities of the Camino, the Association of Reception Hostels and the Junta de Castilla y León, , also people in Santiago (Johnniewalker, Sybille Yates), and, thus, among us all all we began to collaborate to locate the pilgrims who were on the Camino, isolated or uninformed.

When the state of alarm was declared, there were many pilgrims walking who did not know anything about the situation and what we did was to establish reception points, even in private houses. Minimum reception points that people could go to when the shelters closed. There the pilgrims who were on the Camino have been helped, given shelter when the shelters closed and they were assisted in finding a way to return to their countries and their homes, even back to Compostela.

– Then how would you say things are?

It seems that everything has already been fixed, there are practically no people walking, there could be someone who is lost, in fact, they have located only two Canadians who were totally unaware of the border closures. They were sleeping in their own tent in the country … but everything was fixed very quickly. There are no more people now who are unaware or lost.

– The feeling is that on the Camino there was little fear … I suppose that a pilgrim who walks between 20 and 30 kilometers a day does not see himself as vulnerable, but of course he is a possible carrier and hence transmitter of the virus. Could it be that this element that made it difficult to persuade some pilgrims to leave the Camino and be positive about returning in the future?

-Yes, of course yes, I think there is no doubt about it. This is just a parenthesis and people are going to come back very quickly, as soon as it reopens. There is no harm in waiting two or three months. You have to trust the health authorities and as soon as the alarm is over and the return to the Camino is possible, the news will spread immediately. And people are going to join together in spreading it.

-This parenthesis, with the Camino empty … might it afford an opportunity for reflection?

-Yes, this parenthesis can be a period of reflection. With the Holy Year approaching we can ask ourselves what type of Camino we want. For example, reflecting on what should be done to preserve the landscape, the protection of the valleys of the Camino … Just as this crisis reminds us of the fragility of human beings, so also we are aware the fragility of the Camino itself. What is happening leads us to reflect on everything that must be done so that the Camino is the one we want.

– In the social networks of all countries there is only talk of possible cancellations or delays of scheduled flights and dates and possibilities are constantly under discussion …

– The Camino is a unique adventure, the world does not end thanks to a change of dates or the loss of a plane ticket, that is an inconvenience, but it is not a catastrophe. We must be happy because it has been possible for people to return to their homes when the hostels and hotels closed, on the Camino once again there have been people who cared about pilgrims … And as for dates….. certainly as soon as the Way is open the news will spread very quickly. This is not like the plague in the medieval world- with the network everyone will be informed when it is possible to return.

-Tell us something about FICS

– FICS is a brotherhood of pilgrims from all over the world that was born to defend and protect the Camino, especially its heritage, natural and cultural. It defends the traditional pilgrimage, since from the FICS we have requested and proposed the extension of the Compostela to 300 kilometers. We also want traditional hospitality to be maintained, we want that form of hospitality to be named a World Heritage Site.

Thirdly, we dedicate ourselves to the defense of the Jacobean heritage, an outright defense of its natural and cultural heritage. For this we are acting on all the caminos. Perhaps the most important action was our intervention with ICOMOS to stop the development of the famous Touro copper mine. We did a lot of previous work and contributed to the realization of the report that stopped that project.

We are there, we do not stop, we are very clear that we are an international federation and that means that we are better communicated with abroad, that we have people all over the world. The FICS has a virtual connection with many people and that also makes us be very present in the networks and the digital world, that’s why the actions that we have performed, and will perform in the future, reach so many people and so quickly.

Photo: José de la Riera with two other FICS members, Juan Carlos Pérez Cabezas (FICS president) and Paolo Caucci von Saucken (president of the International Committee of Experts on the Camino de Santiago)