Guest Commentary: What I learned on pilgrimage

By Father John J. “Jack” Lombardi

Editor’s note: Father John J. “Jack” Lombardi sent the following message to members of the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy Sept. 30. Their actual distance covered was 109.8 miles.

We 22+ pilgrims walked 108 miles from Baltimore to Philadelphia for Papal Mass, Sept. 20-27.

Some “field notes”…

+Basilica Mass Part I-”God is our engine” – The calm: The opening Mass was prayerful and helpful with song, cheers. Holy Communion—Eucharist is “food for The Way.” Masses each morning along The Way were calming, sacred and so integral and faith-filled to keep us going.

+Part II— “You see it, you can do it:” Arriving in front of the basilica before Mass we noticed a large contingent of Hispanic marchers: they were walking a hundred miles from York, Pa., to Washington and wanted a blessing: I showed up and cued by Paul McMullen, delightfully blessed them and they were so thankful—and an inspiration to us all—”We can do this!”

+”Bonum diffusum est/Good is diffusive of itself:”when we arrived at our first lodging, my cousin was there and handed me a lot of money-donation. Then after seeing and being with the pilgrims so cheery and rugged and determined and fun loving, he gave me more money.

+Helping was one of our missions. Yet – continual challenge – how to deal with so much food provided! At first lunch provided by Nativity Parish, we had 15 foot-long subs, chips, salads and then leftovers. We gave it out along the way thru streets of Baltimore. Jesus said: “ I was hungry and you fed Me” (Mt. 25).

+Sheer delight: All the children of St Ursula in gym gathered to greet us like astronauts-totally enlivening and fun, especially when a young boy asked innocently-seriously: “How are you gonna cross rivers?” Then they all lined bustling Belair Rd for more greeting and 400 of them cheered us through and on with ecstasy and thrills!

+Spontaneity/serendipity: St Margaret Parish and School in Bel Air had one hour notice of our (“bathroom”) visit-stop—and they got the whole school, including young boy dressed as pope out and they were thrilled in greeting us—another “parade” of joy!

+Delicious meals and surprises—Do all pilgrims, pilgrimages have this?#!: we had our choice of fish or meat or chicken at John Carrol High School, and then a bag piper led us out to the Camino the next day! The meals throughout were scrumptious and tremendous fuel for our wearied bodies, thankfully received.

+Cue them and they will help: Matt Pieper, a pilgrim-dad, kept saying after witnessing so many greet and help and donate to us, there’s an inherent goodness in people and they are starving to have it tapped, inspired and want to reach out and help. They did so much.

+ Harmonic Convergence: One secretary from a past church I served in noticed us and stopped on busy Belair Road and dropped me a fifty dollar bill, smiling, wondering if I remembered her: thankfully I did! My cousin “showed up” in Hickory, with dog in tow, and towed us to next drop off spot; helpful.

+Pilgrimages are not meant to be easy: sleeping on hard floors, with snoring others (!), waking up really early, walking 14 miles a day, packing and re-packing and losing stuff(!), getting sick and tired and fatigued, challenges and misunderstandings and adrenalin-filled-Italian and Irish leaders (!)—but all this is no comparison or proportion to all the joy of fellowship, surprises, graces and retreat-like experiences one finds on the Camino.

+Help Part II: How about the lady who had a car accident? We stopped near Rising Sun and helped her and son and nephew as she was crying. The Tillers sang her a blessing song and she wept and, I think, forgot about the accident and more about God’s Mercy and Love: Good vibrations, songs, prayers and solidarity erase bad sensations.

+Help Part III: Waiting in line for Papal Mass for already two hours and two more hours to go, We asked policeman to help. He did! Asked another and we got “bumped up” and made it in miraculously in time for Mass.

+Reconciliation: After harrowing entrance to Papal Mass a lady was upset at us as we passed her by. Hours later we noticed her at Starbucks, Paul Tiller went in and asked her if she wanted a coffee and treated her to a caramel coffee and she smiled. Tension gone, memories change. Reconcile now.

+Good outta bad: I thought about this, and: When we came after Papal Mass to deadlock security are we could not pass, even after “negotiation,” we had to travel another route, about a mile almost, and then passed that Starbucks café with lady there: coincidence, no, Providence, yes!

+ “Weapons of Evangelization”: on your phones and especially through walking through Baltimore and Philly handing out prayer cards, rosaries and food bringing cheer to all around—Scott especially loved this.

+Wounds help: Madelyn who previous to trip sprained her ankle, walked a couple days and injured it some more (eager: yes!) and then took a wheel chair provided by pilgrim Mary Bergin, and wheeled into the Papal Mass-this helped our opportunities in a sea of humanity thru so many check points with her smiling along.

+”Repetition is the Mother of Learning”: an ancient saying, and true. How many times we did our various cheers, Hey hey, ho ho, buen camino, let’s go, (“Buen Camino= good walk” is the motto-greeting of famous Spain Walkway) and: Hey heyho ho Pope Francis vamanos. It took some time/s, but we got it down, nailed it-eventually!

+The weather: Okay, God nailed that! Totally beautiful and harmonious—give thanks!

+Teamwork/traffic-terrific: We had so many challenges of 8 days of waking and nearly 110 miles near speedy roads, bridges, byways and exit ramps and shopping malls and country lanes and yet everyone worked so well with “runners” and “callers” and drivers working as a team to be so safe: wow x 10million!

+Respites along The Way: Like the beautiful horses in Pa. (sure loved that grass out of our hands) and lady nearby there who lent us her house-bathroom and 91-year-old man who greeted us cheerfully and Knights of Columbus nearby Gunpowder Falls who actually set up tables with cloths and chairs and coolers and tons of food in park : Thanks God!

+Talented-wise comedian Priest: Like Monsignor Parlante who was constantly riffing and joking and spent so much gracious time with us and showered us with food and cheer and when Michael asked if he would like to walk on pilgrimage, or if he wanted to be a priest in Maryland. like Father Jack, he dryly replied: “No.” (!#). He also said God is not outdone in generosity—God is infinitely giving. When he realized we were coming he built us a shower; when he realized the Boise, Idaho folks of 130 were visiting along w/ us, he wondered how he would pay for our meals. A parishioner the next day gave him a big check to pay for it all.

+Most frequently asked questions: Are you walking back? (No way!); and: Why are you walking? A.: because Jesus did; it’s part of our tradition, it’s another viable fun way to travel, to do penance and sacrifice, walk with others and when walking you meet more people, see and taste more of our land and towns and peoples.

+Mind over matter: though walking 14 miles a day kids and others still played at night, soccer, basketball and ultimate Frisbee—just how can this happen? Catharsis, fun, team spirit.

This teaches us you can do a lot more than the weary doubting body can imagine!

+Gratefulness: I liked the couple times we stopped, gazing upon countryside beauty and prayed, thankful for our country and sang “America the Beautiful”

+If you don’t ask…We asked for a papal flag, got it; for more sleeping space, got it, for entrance to the papal mass, got it, directions, got em, etc…

+Fellowship-”The Journeying is the Goal:” Think, God brought 30 different people together, mostly strangers, for 24/7 intense time shared, and a giant goal to accomplish, and we all learned and grew and worked with one another. Scott said so well that meeting other pilgrims was a satisfying as meeting the pope. We aim for something high and big and, along the way to it, God has other graces and “goals” in store for us.

+The Papal Mass: it was electric when we saw Pope Francis drive by, so close: yes, we actually made it, saw him, our leader after so many challenges and miles walked! He kissed babies held aloft to him. He led us in prayer and worship. We sang songs in Spanish and Latin and English and all understood though we million people didn’t know each other: Mystical Body of Christ! It was wondrous and semi mystical to see a million people, strangers, worshipping so peacefully together. From all over the world we came and converged and prayed, sang, received Holy Communion so peacefully.

+Guys v. Girls: Each day we had trivia; pursuit—”What’s the capital of Montana? Who taught Aristotle?” etc…Okay—it was a tie, maybe! Kept things light!

+Subtraction is addition: being somewhat of a food and news and pleasure junkie, I didn’t miss any of these as the bliss of fellow pilgrims, walking, praying and fun loving spirt was way better what God added than what I feared would be subtracted.

+Extra effort: We had a “X Team” who walked Xtra miles ea day and cheerfully competed our mileage so every foot of the Camino was stepped: Wow, you stepped up so sacrificially and joyfully!

+Getting lost: Yes, it happened on The Way—”It’s all part of the pilgrimage,” as we said, whether on the highway in Pa., in Philadelphia leaving Papal Mass: but we persevered and even the police helped us nicely!

+Last minute apparitions: Like Willis, a homeless man we met after the Papal Mass, going home, he greeted us, smiling radiantly, talking of how “EPIC” the pope was and getting the Gospel message out and doing what Jesus wants us to do and, yes, receiving some food from you all: Now that’s Pilgrimage!

+”The Camino/Pilgrimage continues”: Now, no big thrills or folks to cheer you on, no cameras or big meals or team spirit or prayer sessions, so now, today, manana, you are called to continue The Way on your own, now having The Path taught us so much: Now diffuse it to others…

You ALL did it-completed and helped us complete the Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy and showed this forth to so many and, to so many, we are ALL thankful for your help, prayers, sacrifices and cheer: Buen Camino!

+Father Jack Lombardi, pilgrim

For full coverage of the pilgrimage, the World Meeting of Families, the World Festival of Families and the papal Mass in Philadelphia, click here.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.