Xohán Rompe – Hospitalero Extraordinaire STTL

I met Xohán for the first time in 2001. I was a hospitalera in O Cebreiro, he a hospitalero in Triacastela. On my day off, I walked down to “see the colleague in the valley” and we have been friends ever since. We have never been hospitaleros in the same albergue, but often in neighbouring ones. He was my SAPO, and I was his, more times than we both can remember.

“SAPO – Literally Spanish for ‘toad’ as like in ‘jumping in’ but also the acronym for Servicio de APOyo (Service of Help). Basically an experienced hospitaler@ that ‘jumps in’ for a few days into an albergue to help out and give some respite to the hospitaler@ on duty.”

‘Nena’ Xohán called me, which means girl in Galician.

“Nena, I show you how to prepare pulpo.”

“Nena, I am coming over to help with Saint John’s night and we are making Queimada.”

“Nena, let’s go to San Andrés de Teixido together.”

“Nena, come and spend New Year with me and my family.”

“Nena, I come over for Christmas to your albergue, let’s cook together and give our pilgrims a Christmas they will never forget.”

“Nena, let’s go to the aldea (ancestral village of the family) and spend a day in the countryside collecting mushrooms, chestnuts and herbs.”

“Nena, …”

Xohán was very much in favour of celebrating life and wouldn’t want to be mourned, to honour his wish here a few stories we lived through together. May those memories lessen the pain:

When he took me to see his ancestral home, a traditional Galician farmstead, he wanted to hang a new mirror in the bathroom. So he drilled a hole, right through the water pipe. It took us a while to find out where to turn the main water supply off and we returned to Lugo soaking wet. Thank God it was summer.

He not only taught me many Spanish and Galician recipes but also many songs. Our favourite was ‘Caminante no hay camino …’ and, most importantly, he never cared how badly I actually sing.

He was one of the few men, I wasn’t in a relationship with, I shared a room, and on a couple of occasions even a mattress with when we were on ‘Camino duty’. His snoring kept me awake, but that was it. We just were comfortable with each other.

One day, when he was a boy of six or seven, and spent time with his grandparents in the aldea, his grandfather invited him to help carry ‘sopa de burro cansado’ (tired donkey soup, bread soaked in red wine) to the barn where two pilgrims spend the night. That was in the 1950s and I will forever remember this story he shared with me as a first-hand account that the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela never truly died – and the hope that it never will.

And finally, a story that has nothing to do with the Camino, but all with Xohán’s beloved Lugo. He always said: “In Lugo, we are just half a metre away from the Roman empire.” Why? One day repairs on the sewage system before his mother’s shop were necessary but when the workers started to dig they found a well preserved Roman mosaic. The archaeologists were there for a long time, camping out in the entrance of his mother’s shop …

But Xohán was more than ‘just’ a hospitalero on the Camino de Santiago, he was also a social activist who put his money and hands where he saw a need, a gifted photographer, musician and writer, an exceptional actor – and so much more. He was my friend.

Xohán designed this logo for the Hospitaleros Voluntarios, a human being stretching out wide his/her arms to the pilgrims and carrying them all (as tiny figures) inside his/her very being. A symbol that is now worn by hundreds of volunteers …

I am sure we will meet again in the celestial albergue de peregrinos and if we two manage to behave ourselves perhaps the angelic hospitaler@s will allow us to take finally a turn together as hospitaleros. Cooking, singing, and yes, preparing Queimada for peregrinos as we once used to do.

But the heartbreaking thing is that only a few weeks ago I was in Lugo, visiting a pilgrim in the hospital. I contacted Xohán on very short notice, but we didn’t manage to meet up. Sometimes this happens. You see more of each other if you live in different countries as when you live only 100km apart. We were both busy, me with pilgrims here in Santiago, he with his family and social causes in Lugo. Xohán died Friday, 26th July 2019, just one day after the feast of Santiago.

Sit tibi terra levis mi amigo hospitalero, we will see again! Your Nena

PS Make time to see your friends and tell them how much they mean to you, you never know …

10 thoughts on “Xohán Rompe – Hospitalero Extraordinaire STTL”

  1. What a beautiful remembrance, in a sense his earthly camino continues with your sharing. Thank you.

  2. so beautifully written! A reminder of how much of an Ur-hospitalera you are, Sybille.
    I never met Xohan. May he rest in peace.

  3. Dear Sybille,
    We are so sorry for your loss and for that of Xohán’s family.
    Many blessings on this day.
    Carol aNd Denis

  4. Thank you for sharing this extremely moving and heartfelt tribute with us Sylvia. A beautiful man gone now to resr with God after a life well lived.

    1. I think Xohán’s light is shinning even brighter now. Thank you for sharing this with us. An inspiration.

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