Father Jack Lombardi worked the traditional Hindu greeting into 7:45 a.m. Mass in the chapel at The John Carroll School Sept. 22. It was in deference to Kishan Patel, the online editor in chief of The Patriot, the school newspaper. He is American-born but with roots in India, a continual reference in the homily. Father Jack talked of Paul Tiller and other pilgrims joining him on a mission to Kolkata, where they rested in a Jesuit residence and witnessed the love and mercy of Blessed Teresa. Quoting her, Father Jack said, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth.” Another diamond arrow to the brain from Father Jack’s homily: “Catholic Church is a verb, and a noun. Church is not here to ossify us. It is here to turn us into saints.”
I had rousted him from his sleeping bag, in the weight room in the lower gym, at 5:20 a.m. or so. We were due in 40 minutes for a live stand-up spot with Ron Matz and WJZ Channel 13. Ron and Father Jack nailed it, as did John Carroll students Gabe Webster and Megan Piercy. There was a rousing bagpipe sendoff courtesy of Andrew McIntyre, a John Carroll math teacher, and less than a mile later, greetings from the entire student body of St. Margaret School.
Father Jack Lombardi and other pilgrims pause to pray in the St. Ignatius chapel that dates to 1792. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)
Behind schedule when we got to St. Ignatius Hickory, I blew through the oldest church in continuous use in the archdiocese, committed to the notion that every step of the walk to Philadelphia be covered by someone. While most exhaled and then piled into vans for a few miles, I schemed with Tony Antenucci to walk the 7.9 miles to the lunch rendezvous. Bob Williams wanted in, and so did Mary Bergin. Glad I stopped being selfish and said yes.
Mary was one of the subjects of the Amen in our Oct. 1 issue. Tony is a friend of Ann Augherton, the wife of Chris Gunty, my boss. Thanks, Ann. When I needed to rant, I ran to Tony. He was born in the New York borough of Brooklyn. I went to parochial school in Baltimore’s Brooklyn, at St. Rose of Lima. He answered my blather right back. Bob is a character from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who used to be involved in choir ministry at St. Timothy in Walkersville when he and his wife, Eun Ya, lived in Frederick County. They are a combined 134 years young. Bob brought his guitar and the assorted homeopathic cures that keep them moving. I think he would approve of my wife’s cure for the common cold, buckwheat honey.
Tony Antenucci, Mary Bergin and Bob Williams, on the road from Hickory to Darlington Sept. 22. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)
We had a fifth companion tracking us on bike for the next few miles. In Hancock a few weeks earlier, Cecilia Herman met Father Jack by chance and vowed to see him in Bel Air, if not sooner (she picked us up just past Fallston Sept. 21, and joind us for morning Mass Sept. 22). A parishioner of St. Margaret, she has resided in Harford County since 1988. Cecilia was raised in Roland Park and at the Cathedral parish, but had many ancestors baptized at the Basilica, so the pilgrimage resonated with her from its start. She shared the following in an email.
“It has been obvious that the pilgrims were sharing a message during their walk – that was felt by me when in their presence and I know how lucky I was to be among this. I was thankful to have been in their presence and have it spill over to me during my short time with them. It was a sad feeling when it was necessary to leave after taking this bike ride alongside (them), but the blessing that was given me upon the departure, I took with me on the return ride – and it had deep meaning.”
I wrote about other serendipitous meetings that day and the next here. What that article doesn’t mention is that Marilyn Pare drove me to the Rising Sun library the night of Sept. 22, where her friends pointed me to the quiet room and a blessed hour of Internet connectivity that had my laptop, Maureen Cromer’s mini-tablet and my phone all humming.
Father Jack gives a thumbs-up to the welcome of Father Henry Kunkel, pastor of St. Mary Pylesville, and others at St. Agnes in Rising Sun. (Courtesy Paula Tiller)