No time to read the story when you are part of it

“Did you read my story?”

Over the decades, I masked my disappointment when that question led to a head shake from a college basketball great like Juan Dixon or a steady Baltimore Raven like Matt Stover or the greatest Olympian and endurance athlete in history, Michael Phelps. It wasn’t until people were asking me questions on the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy that I fully began to comprehend that those scrutinized because of their entry into the arena don’t always have the inclination – let alone the time – to read and hear what others have to say about them. They are in the moment, honing their craft or putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t need an other’s analysis of what they are doing and living.

Father John “Jack” Lombardi is interviewed by a Philadelphia radio station.

I have an urge to quantify, and tracked our daily mileages on my Nike GPS runner’s watch. On our last morning, I set its alarm for a 4:45 a.m. wake-up at St. Philomena in Lansdowne, Pa. Never heard it. Awoke on my own 10 minutes later, and laughed when the watch went dead a few hours later. One of the reasons for early reveille was a 6 a.m. spot with Robert Lang on WBAL 1090. He asked what I thought of the pope’s visit thus far. I did not have a clue, told Robert I had not watched a newscast or read anything Francis-related in the last eight days, other than an OpEd Father John J. Lombardi – aka Father Jack – wrote for The Sun.

With few interruptions, I have been working in the media since my 12th birthday in 1967, when I got the responsibility of becoming a delivery boy for The News American. The Maryland football beat for The Sun in the mid-1990s made me a talk radio regular. Books on Maryland basketball and Phelps followed, and promoting them required more talk. It is second nature for me to blather on with a radio or TV station or an ink-stained wretch with a notepad. I am one of them.

Talking about themselves and their journey was foreign and perhaps frightening, however, to home-schooled pilgrims and their parents who have a justifiable wariness of the secular media and its confusing, crass diet of Caitlyn Jenner, You’re Fired, etc. Our lone organizational meeting for pilgrims was Sept. 11, at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Frederick. I told total strangers to trust me, I work for the Catholic press, and Archbishop William E. Lori. I did not anticipate the mass media interest the pilgrimage would engender, and the leap of faith pilgrims would have to take. Some of the younger kids need footnotes to understand my calling them WMEs – Weapons of Mass Evangelization – but all came to know they were being watched, and had an opportunity to preach the Gospel, using words if necessary.

I am so proud of Scott Sainz and Shanon Pieper and Liliana Abil and others – and, most of all, Paula Tiller. In addition to being a good wife to Paul, her husband, and mothering the three youngest of her 10 children on the pilgrimage, she mothered everyone. In the absence of my wife, Mary, who realigns and gets me back in line as needed, Paula also served that function, a full-time job in itself. Paula hugged Maureen the social media machine when she needed it – and found the peace, time and strength to surrender her privacy and share her heart and soul with TV and print reporters.

Still processing the pilgrimage, and all the colleagues and friends it allowed me reconnect with, and the growth the Gospel afforded me. Gonna recount some of them next week.

Click here for a Baltimore Sun interview with some of the pilgrims.

Catholic Review

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