At long last, there's a memorial stone along the Camino de Santiago for Denise Pikka Thiem, an American pilgrim who was killed outside Astorga in the spring of 2015.
Plenty of good-hearted people proposed memorials in the months since the crime occurred (the culprit was caught, judged, and sentenced to 26 years of jail time) but the Thiem family just wasn't ready to sign off on anything. So the plans for plinths and statues, sculptures and crosses were laid aside.
Meantime, we of Peaceable Projects conceived an idea of a small park along the path, dedicated to the several pilgrims who die each year while on their Camino journey. Planting trees and placing small plaques is a nice way for friends and family to leave a little of their loved-one there along the trail they loved... and this way, if we ever placed one, Denise's stone would be one of several others. This would not be a dark spot, a memorial to a crime victim. It will be a place to stop and reflect, to honor fellow pilgrims, and remember how short our lives really are.
Astorga is centrally located, easily reached. There's lots to like there.
I got hold of some well-connected people in Astorga. They had a park just right for the job, smack alongside the Camino path. They said "sure!" They'd supply the trees and mow the grass. There's even a little chapel there, in case someone wants a memorial Mass or service.
And so we started. In the spring of 2016, the Bishop of Astorga blessed the site. This spring we installed and blessed our first memorial plaque, for Ron Duke, an Australian pilgrim who died in Leon.
The waves of fear and near-hysteria that followed Denise's disappearance played themselves out.
And this spring I asked again, gently: "Do you still want a camino memorial?"
And this time, Denise's mom said "yes."
Yesterday, after a long summer of false starts and grand plans, me and two American friends hauled a plaque of Yorkshire stone over to Astorga, mixed some concrete, and set the Denise Pikka Thiem memorial stone in place. It sits at the foot of a red maple tree planted especially for Denise, right from the start. A tree that's hung with pilgrim scallop shells.
I never met Denise Thiem. I've never met her family in person. While the drama of her disappearance played itself out I did not step up or lend a hand when I could have done.
So I did this, with a little help from my friends.
And from strangers, too.
You never work alone in Spain. Any job you do in public, especially if you are a woman with blonde hair, will attract droves of spectators, advisors, and people who really want to take it over and do it the right way.
I am not one to deny anyone that opportunity, especially when it involves digging holes in hard earth.
And so yesterday, Olindo rolled up on his bike with some builders' tools, and showed us how it's done. He's a builder, an immigrant from Portugal, happy to help a project that might comfort the family of "that poor unlucky pilgrim girl."
So Denise has a stone, and an epitaph written by her brother Cedric. And a red maple tree. We will plant some spring bulbs there next week.
Lilies. Denise's favorite.
This is the first project for Peaceable Projects Inc., the new US non-profit I started in October.
If you would like to help pay for the memorial, or support our ongoing efforts to Do Good On the Holy Way, you can make a tax-deductible donation by tapping on the PayPal button above.
Kim is designing a handsome website, where this blog will soon find a new home, and our ongoing projects will be (God willing!) detailed and updated and duly illustrated.
This is only the start.
God is with us.
|Colorado Mark, me, and Olindo, who is plotting our rescue|
NOTE: I am informed that a group of Argentine pilgrims put up a memorial plaque for Denise along the Camino earlier on. I didn't know that. So this is not the first, after all.