Monday, July 28, 2008


In the early hours of Sunday morning with my forehead pressed against the window of the Vietnam Airlines flight, the southern hemisphere stars faded from view as a rainbow of colours beckoned in the first sunrise over Australian soil I'd seen since December of2006. It was a beautiful sight from 20,000ft above the red centre of Australia & the only thing I could think of was how far away Brazil now was... and how close my friends & family were. The flight touched down at Sydney airport an hour behind schedule but thankfully the 50-odd friends who were waiting to welcome me home had stuck around. It was a tad embarrassing when a couple of the guys pulled out guitars & began singing U2's "With or Without You" in full-voice, but I was so happy to see everyone after all this time & to simply be with them again that there singing simply provided atmosphere. It took nearly an hour to say hello to everyone & remove ourselves from the building. As I stepped out of the airport terminal the first car to drive past me startled me as it headed past on the 'wrong side of the road' with the driver on the 'wrong side of the car'. I was home, but it was feeling a little odd & dare I say 'foreign'. I climbed into the Pannell family van & we drove off to our first port-of-call, Sunday mass. Martin (the dad) has an ability to ask 100 questions a minute & he was on fire. For the first time in my life though I was able to keep up with him. He had so many questions & I had so many stories to tell! We soon found a midday mass at a small church in the centre of Sydney & found the last two remaining seats, right up the front. Steve Toohey, The national director of Youth Mission Team Australia (my old stomping ground) also arrived with his family & so we all took our place in readiness for the service. Now, to set the scence, throughout almost the entirity of the walk from Brazil to Spain, two retired couples, John & Margaret Pollard and Charles & Beth Fivaz, had emailed me weekly with words of inspiration & encouragement. I'd never met them, they'd simply heard of the walk & decided to become active participants. Charles & Beth lived in Melbourne and John & Margaret lived south of Sydney where, as far as I understood, they attended the local Anglican Church. Along the seat I'd sat down in were a heap of kids, then myself, Steve Toohey & an elderly couple on the end. The Pannell & Toohey families (7 children between them) were very 'active' in waiting for the start of mass & providing a few laughs along the way. All of a sudden the elderly man leant across towards us & enquired, "Steve?". Steve stopped what he was doing & stared at the man for a split second before recognising him, "Uncle John!" Steve laughed, "What are you doing here?" Uncle John & his wife, Margaret, happened to be in Sydney & had been looking for a mass to attend. They'd stumbled across this small church in time for the midday service & decided to attend. I was staring at them thinking to myself, "Surely not. It couldn't be them." John then realised I was staring at him & for a short period stared back until he enquired of me, "Sam?" It was him! We greated each other with a lot more timidity than perhaps we would have liked to but considering our position at the front of a packed church some sort of discretion called for. Talk about God's perfect timing. We'd been on this journey together for so long without ever meeting face to face & then finally, without any planning, we finally met while attending my first mass on home soil. John, Margaret & I had watery eyes as the mass began & it was with much thanks to God that we entered into it. Following the mass I was whisked off to an appartment in the centre of Sydney, which had been hired for me for the duration of World Youth Day as a welcome home gift from a group of '4:01' friends from both Australia & overseas. It was rather... nice. It was very up-market & close to the World Youth Day venues. I was incredibly grateful. I only had an hour there before needing to scramble off to the first media engagement for World Youth Day with a television crew. The following day I was off to ABC Radio for a 30min interview about christian unity & the walk but most of my time was spent preparing speaking material for the four main 'gigs' for the week. The first speaking engagement was on Tuesday morning in Sydney's Hyde Park with the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community (with whom I'm a covenant member) at the World Youth Day Cross & Icon tent. That time was predominantly spent finding friends & family (my brother Chris was there) & trying to name my friend's children who looked absolutly nothing like how I remembered them. Mind you, they didn't recognise me either. I'd brought a tub of chocolate ice-cream with me to the tent & found Rev Dave Callaghan to sit down with & share the spoils. Rev Dave was, in effect, my email spiritual advisor & all-round logistics guy throguhout the entire trip. Two spoons & a tub of Ice-cream was a satisfying way to wrap up this 'little' pilgrimage. The following day I made my way down onto Australia's iconic Bondi Beach for the Franciscan run "Come to the Water" Unity concert. The forecast for the week had been for showers but not a drop of rain fell. It was blue skies & warm sunshine pretty much all week long & Bondi Beach looked fantastic on the Wednesday afternoon. Around 15,000 people rocked up & I was wide-eyed as I sat backstage with Fr Stan Fortuna, a famous rapping Franciscan from the Bronx, and the incredible Matt Maher & his band. The whole night centred around our common unity in Christ & it was an up-lifting event. Ben Galea, the event co-cordinator, had even organised for a few thousand '4:01' wrist bands to be prduced for the evening & so with half the crowd wearing the wrist bands I was able tell a few stories & continue the invitation to pray for unity. Thursday night saw me walking out across Sydney Harbour Bridge to the north shore for a speaking engagment with the Jesuit run Magis Event. Their evening was centred around prayer intentions & so I was asked to speak about my various intentions throughout the walk. Although I walked & prayed for christian unity, I also prayed for those I met, for the individuals & the communities, those who welcomed me & those who mugged me. Everyday my prayers seemed to change in some way so there was plenty to talk about. My brother & most of the pilgrims from my home state of Tasmania had also travelled across the bridge for the event & we celebrated at the end of the night as one of the students from St Patrick's College (my old school) launched into the College hymn, "Oh Patrick Hail!". Very quickly the strong contingency of St Patrick's students, past & present, were joining together in full voice. I'm glad we stopped at the end of the first verse though because I'm still a little hazey on that 2nd one. It was as the chorus was dying down & the crowd was braking into social chatter that I noticed a young couple staring at me & smiling. I thought they were just randoms so I smiled back & continued meeting with the Tasmanian pilgrims, but then it hit me like a tonne of bricks as to who I had just smiled back at. I swung back around with my jaw nearly touching the ground. It was Damian & Tatiana Burger! A little over 12months earlier I met Damian & Tatiana in Costa Rica & they had taken the literal steps to be the first people to walk a day with me. It was on that day that we were set upon by 4 men with knives & stripped clean of all we had. Now that's a bonding moment! We'd kept in touch since but seeing them face-to-face again was priceless. As I crossed Europe Damian had emailed me a few times asking me to pray for them, that they would be able to begin a family, so it was even more of a "celebration on the spot" as Tatiana patted her tummy proudly & introduced me to child number 1. A little baby Burger... that'd be McJunior wouldn't it?? :-) It was fantastic to see them again. Coming home & meeting so many old friends from prior to walking & so many new friends I met along the way was such a blessing. I also ran into people I'd met in the USA, Canada, Poland & Austria! That evening I walked back across the Sydney Harbour Bridge with my brother, Chris, his girlfriend, Mercedes & my old cricket coach, Luke. The city looked amazing at night, particularly with thousands of pilgrims filling the streets. Friday was the biggest day of my WYD schedule as the MC for Receive the Power Live. The stations of the cross wound its way through Sydney, concluding at the main weekday venue of Barangaroo. One hour later we were on in front of around 70,000 people with a momentus baptism in the holy spirit evening that was simply awesome. Hillsong, Matt Maher, Bishop Joe Grech & most notably, the blessed sacrament. It was an incredible night for unity. It was a joint event of the Catholic Charasmatic Communities & Hillsong (an internationally renowned Pentecostal Church) combined with the prayer support of many christians from nearly every corner of the christian church in Sydney. Speaking in front of 70,000 people sure was a long way from Brazil, but I was more than happy to be there. A huge congratualtions to the event manager, my good friend Kristen Toohey, who also helped to get the Walk4one rolling. Thanks Kris (and Pete gilmore!). On Saturday afternoon I said goodbye to my flash appartment & trekked out to Randwick Racecourse with around 400,000 other pilgrims to find my little spot in the crowd for the Final Mass sleep-out. Just before the evening vigil began I met up with an old friend & we sat & chatted for hours about our seperate paths over the last 2years to get to this point. I doubt I've ever been more relaxed & content in all my life as I was that night, and that's no exageration. I didn't sleep particularly well though. It was cold & the Polish pilgrims, somewhere up the back, sang all night long! The final mass the following morning was beautiful despite being viewed through tired, weary eyes. With a final flury of good-byes over half a million people who had gathered for the mass set off through the streets of Sydney for their home cities & countries. I needed to travel over 1000km to get back to Tasmania so I teamed up with friends Paul & Mark and after a short train ride, we picked up Paul's car & headed south through the night. We took it in shifts & eventually arrived in Melbourne at close to 4am. I think. From there, Mark & I said goodbye to Paul & caught the plane across Bass Strait & finally, after so much time, touched down at home. It was fantastic to see my family again & comforting to look out across the farm once more. I had initially indicated to friends & family that I would be home in Tasmania for 6months but as I touched down in Australia the call to mission work was already pulling at me. No sooner had I landed & I'd accepted a position back with Youth Mission Team Australia working as a team manager 3500km away in the west Australian city of Perth. I spent 2 weeks at home on the farm where I built some soccer goals, helped my dad build a 2km fence & generally enjoyed being home again before packing my backpack. On the final Sunday before flying out to Perth I travelled in to the city of Launceston to go to mass with my mum at the Church of the Apostles. My feet are still pretty bad from the walk so it was with a slight limp that I entered in among familiar faces & sat down. The inside of the church hadn't changed while I'd been away & yet, somehow, it looked very different. Perhaps the change was my own? As Fr Richard began reading the Gospel I was filled, more than ever, with a great sense of this particular missionary journey being drawn to an end. Within the Catholic Church there is a three year cycle of readings so that, every three years, pretty much all of the bible is covered. As I sat listening to Fr Richard read I began to smile as I recalled the last time I'd heard this particular piece of scripture; it was in Mebourne in 2005 at St Benedict's Catholic Church. Fr Tony, an MGL, was reading & I was sitting in the pews, having not paid attention for the first part of the mass because I was distracted. My mind was racing. Only an hour before hand I'd read about the division of the church, the body of Chirst, and been so moved by it that it would in time draw me deeper into prayer & into a journey that was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. My ears pricked up during the reading of the Gospel & it was as though Fr Tony was speaking straight to me. And so it was, three years later to the day, as I sat alongside my mum in my home parish that my ears pricked up once again.
Matthew 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
Three years ago I had no idea of exactly what I was 'buying' into, but it is with incredible joy & complete thanks that the doors were opened to 'sell everything' and simply walk with God. It's also with a tad sense of sadness that I log off now for the very last time, though, I have to say, I am very relieved to finally have my life out of the microscope & to be able to throw myself straight back into the missionary field - my home. A book is in the pipeworks, so please keep an eye out for it around Easter 2009. Whether there is a book or not thoguh, more importantly, please continue to pray for the unity of christians, particularly at 4:01 each day. May the Lord bless you and walk with you through life & may we all be united as one, in truth and in love. Amen, amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Good, The Bad & The Bizarre!

Hello from Ho Chi Minh Airport, Vietnam! I'm nearly home... No photos this week & no recount of the week, instead, just as a filler until World Youth Day, here is a quick-list look at the last 18months. Here is, the good, the bad and the bizarre.

Top 12 Highs
1. Being offered hammock hanging space in a tin shed in Panama by a young man who lived there with his wife & child. The shed was no more than 2mx3m with no running water, electricity, toilet or address. Dinner was a bread role with a slice of sausage on it. Breakfast was another bread role with a cup of lemon grass tree, which he cut fresh from the nearby field. He had nothing but gave all that he could. His daughter's toy Dino doll has accompanied me the entire trip since.
2. USA/Canada hospitality including 15days in a row across Montana & Canada where I was invited by strangers to stay in their home. Loved it!
3. Walking 148km over 3days between civilisation across the Shirley Basin in Wyoming, USA. I nearly froze, but God provided the perfect practical support in incredible ways (including peanut butter filled chocolates)!
4. Walking across the spectacularly beautiful Grand Savannah in Venezuela's south east corner.
5. The surprise visits on the road from my good friend Dave in Austria and then my parents in Spain.
6. Walking at night through an Oklahoma (USA) electrical storm that was simply mesmerizing.
7. The people I met along the Camino de Santiago in Spain; Their stories, their personalities, their company.
8. Spending a blessed & fun-filled Christmas with my brother Chris and the family Quist in Edmonton, Canada.
9. Being welcomed into the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Christian Unity :-)
10. All of the Mountain crossings! The Andes Mtns, Mexico's Cordillera Neovolcanica, The USA Rockies, The Austrian/Italian Alps & the Pyrenees.
11. The amazing hospitality in Riachao do Bacamarte, Patos & Pombal in north east Brazil just as I was starting out. Many smiles.
12. Being joined on the road by Nikki, Chris, The Quists, Justin & Wojtek (& Michal's trumpet!)

Top 12 Lows
1. Walking 66km in one day across Venezuela, running out of food & water & then coming face to face with a Puma in long grass on a quiet country road. After a tense stand-off & a slow approach by the Puma we finally parted company & I was left to sleep 3km back up the road in a clearing, severely dehydrated & a tad shaken!
2. Again in Venezuela, having a shot gun pushed against my head while eating lunch on the side of the road.
3. Being mugged at knife point & stripped clean by 4 men while walking with a small youth group in Costa Rica.
4. Being attacked by 2 drunken men in the snow on the side of a Russian highway & having to fight my way free.
5. Being hospitalised in Guatemala due to Salmonella poisoning & a subsequent Typhoid fever caused by eating some under-cooked rooster.
6. Big-toe-bleeder. Three times, for around 6-8weeks each time, having the side of my left big toe split open.
7. Developing an irregular heartbeat as a result of physical stress, rapid weight loss & fatigue.
8. Both knees seizing & both achilles tendons being strained all at the same time while in Russia.
9. Being taken to the Chief of Police in Brest, Belarus, for having crossed Belarus with an invalid Visa.
10. Waking up in a dark room in both Brazil & Honduras with a man trying to get into bed with me.
11. Being assaulted on the side of a Columbian road by a drunken man before a soldier, armed with an automatic rifle, broke up the scuffle & arrested him.
12. Dodging flying rocks, full beer cans, water balloons & verbal abuse throughout Venezuela.

Top 12 Bizarre Moments
1. Not able to find accommodation in a remote part of Texas & with dangerous animals lurking, I locked myself in a National Park disabled toilet cubicle & slept soundly. And if it started to get cold, all I had to do was reach up and hit the hand dryer... hmmm, toasty warm.
2. Being invited to speak about unity & the need for prayer at a funeral in Brazil, while the mourning family wept in the front row. Talk about a pressure moment!
3. Having the trans-Siberian railway stopped by a drunk man in the middle of Siberian wilderness because he wanted a lift. The engineer (with a hammer in hand just in case) took to him with a huge kick to the chest, flooring him in the snow. I guess that was a no.
4. Being heckled by two young men in Nicaragua as they passed by in a horse drawn cart. Heckling isn't ever nice, but there was something bizarre about being heckled from rickety old cart.
5. In a church in Colorado, USA, I was introduced to the congregation, "And we'd like to extend a very special welcome today to a travelling missionary who is with us, all the way from Tanzania, Austria!" Everyone applauded. I smiled with great difficulty.
6. Nearly crying with laughter as Nikki Harris' boots bellowed out shampoo foam during a thunder storm after she'd washed her socks the night before using... shampoo. Hmmm, do I smell 'Citrus Fresh'?
7. While walking in the rain, having a Texas gentleman stop his truck & run half way across the road & toss a heavy duty rain coat at me, "Just so you don't get sick son!" A little confused, I caught the coat as he ducked back into the driver's seat & headed off down the road, "but... I already have a raincoat."
8. Standing on the side of the Amazon River boat I caught, I was fascinated by the floating Caltex service station up ahead that all the boats were pulling into. The captain must have been fascinated by it as well because he ran straight into it & buckled the tin sheeting on its roof.
9. Being taken into the border security interrogation room at both ends of the USA. Nothing beats the moment when the first questioning officer re-entered the room fitting a pair of surgical gloves on. With a snap of the gloves I looked up with open eyes, "Oh no." The officer looked at me, "No, no! I just need to go through your bag..."
10. Eating congealed cow's blood mixed with sugar and sheep guts on a bed of rice while in Brazil. Anyone for McDonalds?
11. Watching a lady in Venezuela try to pull a large open umbrella through a small doorway & jamming it. She turned around, rotated the umbrella & pulled again, of course jamming it once more. My eyes widened, "Did she just rotate a round object to fit it through a rectangular doorway?" A third time she rotated the umbrella & this time pulled harder. Nothing. Finally, a hand emerged from the other side & twisted the umbrella onto an angle so it could fit through the opening. I was left alone in the street with my mouth ajar. "Did I really just see that?"
12. While walking in Poland, a young man, Wojtek, joined me for the day. In the late afternoon a gaggle of geese flew over us with no formation. I yelled out, "Form a V, it's easier!" In that very moment the geese quickly arranged themselves into a flying 'T'. Wojtek laughed and yelled out to them, "No! He said a V, not a T!" We couldn't believe our eyes as the 'T' slid into a flying 'V'. Glad we could help...

God is good, God is great. For all of the above, the bad included as well as all the things that have gone without mention, I am grateful to God for his provision and love. I complained a lot, I frowned a lot, I stuffed up a lot, but I have been blessed out of my socks. Thank you to everyone who has supported this mission in any way, shape or form. I hope to see you for the penultimate blog from Sydney next week. God bless & peace be with you.
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Pr 19:21

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The End of the Road

After 568days, 9350km on trains, 9824km in aircraft & 15,259km on foot, the journey from Cape Branco, Brazil, to Cape Finisterre in Spain is over. It is done. Standing on a cliff ledge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Finisterre yesterday evening I was trying to make sense of what has taken place in these last 18months but the only thing I could fathom in the moment was that the sunset was beautifully simple. A week earlier, Finisterre was still just a hopeful possibility. My gear was failing very quickly & the race was on to finish walking before it all finished working. Four out of five zips on my backpack had broken, two rips had opened up requiring a mixture of running & blanket stitches with fine fishing line, the backpack shoulder straps where dangerously close to pulling apart completely, I'd worn 3 holes in my only shirt & the walking poles had worn all the way to the plastic protective guard. Basically, everything was being handled with great care. Even my plastic spoon broke in half. Good thing I was carrying a spare. It was a 3day walk from Samos to Santiago de Compostela & it was very satisfying to make the final 30km alongside Oisin (the Irishman) after we once again walked into each other at a small village cafe. We had a spring in our step, however, both being ahead of schedule, we also had the comfort of being able to enjoy his final day & not push ourselves too hard. For Oisin, Santiago was the end of the journey. As we entered the centre of the historic city along its narrow cobble stone streets, we met my dad standing outside the Cathedral, waiting for me as we had planned a week earlier. This was now Oisin's time to reflect on his journey & so we thanked one another for the time we had spent together in conversation, prayer & silence while walking the Camino & said farewell. While Oisin's journey was at an end, I still had 90km to complete with mum & dad hoping to join me all the way to the Atlantic. We set off the following morning, enjoying cool overcast conditions for most of the day. That night mum & dad booked me into a hotel with them & we ventured down to the supermarket to buy our dinner for the night. Dad suggested we buy a couple of pizzas & cook them in the oven in our room. We'd all seen the hot plates & sink so agreed that it was a great idea. None of us though, had noticed that there was no oven. And so it was that on the 2nd last night, dad & I tried with great difficulty to cook those stupid frozen pizzas on the hot plates. And why wasn't mum helping? Well, she was too busy laughing at us, to the point of tears. We got there eventually, after having to flip the pizzas upside down to cook the tops as well. It didn't look like pizza in the end but if you closed your eyes & concentrated hard, it still tasted like it. Just don't ask about the no-oil, no-salt, no-sauce chips we cooked as well. This is why I eat canned tuna with vegtables. The following day of walking began as the previous had ended, cool & overcast. Half an hour later though, a cold shower swept in sending us diving for our wet weather gear. That shower finally stopped 10hours later after we'd walked 34km through pounding, howling wind that sent the rain at us sideways. A huge low pressure system had swept down off the North Atlantic & blanketed north-western Spain. None of us were prepared for the drop in temperature & we all began to lose feeling in our fingers as we traversed some of the more open & exposed sections of the track. The entire area is overflowing with Tasmanian Blue-gums & a noxious weed called gorse, both of which thrive in our area of Tasmania. The vegetation, coupled with the southern ocean-like weather led dad to observe that he could have stayed at home for this! Within a few hours our boots were saturated, our feet were squelching on every step & the water was whisking off noses, chins, fingers & backpacks. It was wet & it was windy. We were so wet, cold & uncomfortable that we opted to not stop for lunch but to just keep our heads down & soldier on. Late in the afternoon we eventually made it to a small town with a hotel. After some long showers & a lot of make-shift clotheslines being built we ventured down to the bar for dinner. Dad was shivering badly when we entered the hotel but was now more relaxed & warming up. As he ate his soup he commented that it was warming him up nicely but a few minutes later he was begining to find it uncomfortably hot & had to stop eating & lethargicly remove his jumper. He began to look flustered as his body continued to heat up & he had to excuse himself to the open doorway where he sat in the cool breeze trying to cool down. Mum wasn't saying a word but was watching with very wide eyes. Was he about to pass-out, vomit or have a heart attack? It was a tense few minutes as his temperature continued to rise but thank God, he regained his colour & after some deep breathes was keen to rejoin the meal at the table. I told mum that the same thing had happened to me in Mexico, but that wasn't much comfort at all. So, dad nearly self-combusted, other than that, nice meal... The final day began in sunshine & mum & dad were both keen to push on & were feeling pretty good. My camera however, was going the way of my backpack & threw a hissy-fit at having been exposed to moisture the day before. The dvd drive wouldn't fire, the lcd screen lost a colour & the camera was reporting a disc error. For a small time there it was looking like no photos or video footage of the final day would be taken. I am very thankful that all of a sudden the camera kicked into gear &, minus a legible lcd screen, was ready to go for one final day. As I walked & prayed through the final 35km my mind kept drifting back through the various events that have stuck in my mind from this journey & it was beginning to sink in that this was it. This was the end. I haven't ever re-read a single blog entry so some events had faded from memory a tad as I spend most of my time on the now, but as I walked & pondered certain situations from the last 18months I kept remembering more & more. Some made me smile, even laugh, & others caused me to breathe deeply & shake my head in disbelief or amazement (basically that I was still alive). Mum & dad set their own pace so I had plenty of time by myself as I waited at hill tops for them. Mind you, mum would have made it a lot quicker if she didn't stop & pick flowers. "Mum, please... Cape Finesterre?" Mum & dad made it through the day a lot 'easier' than the previous day with the added aid of 2 Tasmanian Blue-gum walking sticks each to help them along the way. With the weather on our side, we made more frequent stops & ate well. By the time we made it to Fisterra, the town at the beginning of Cape Finisterre, mum & dad were keen to call it a day, leaving me with the final 3km climb up along the cape to the 'end of the earth'. I continued praying right up onto the cape's steep, rocky end & with a view of the expansive Atlantic Ocean from 100m above, I climbed down along the face to a quiet ledge about halfway down. There were numerous tourists at the top & I was keen to find some quiet space to simply sit & be. There was still a few hours before sunset so I just sat & waited... with a big bowl of cereal & cold milk I'd carried up in my backpack. At first, 'the end' seemed a little hollow & it was difficult to come to terms with what 'the end' actually meant. As more & more time passed by I began to appreciate more & more the journey that has brought me to this point & in particular, the Lord's provision & love that has sustained me. All the way back in Brazil I had placed a set of rosary beads on the fence at Cape Branco, with the intention of doing the same here in Spain. The rosary is taught very heavily against by many chritians & so for me it stands as a strong symbol of both the prayer that unites us & the division that seperates us. There was nothing obvious to hang the rosary from though, so I opted to grabed one of my walking poles & jam it down in between two large stones over-looking the ocean. I tied the rosary beads onto the end of it & left it to hang in the sea breeze. I prayed, for the final time on this particular journey, "Holy Father, please unite all christians in truth & in love, for the glory of your name & for the salvation of souls. Please bless Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Patriarches of the eastern churches, those serving on the World Council of Churches & all the worlds chirsitan leaders with Faith, Hope, Love & Wisdom, so that they may better lead us to you & into unity with one another. Amen" Afterwards, I stood in silence before entering into my own one-on-one personal prayer time, simply thanking God for all that has happened & re-committing myself for whatever may lay ahead. It was actually during this time that I finally felt as though the walk had come to a close. This journey had finally come to an end. I sat on my rock again & was excited to see a few pilgrims I'd met earlier in the week making their way down the cape edge. Vin from Brazil, was quick to whip his clothes out of his backpack, bundle them up & throw a match on them. They went up very quickly. The other pilgrims followed suit & I wasn't far behind. I clambered over the rocks to them & after some cheerful greetings, I ripped my battered shirt off & tossed it on the fire as well. It burnt very quickly. I'm glad I didn't throw my jacket on the fire as well, it was mighty cold out there. Vin came down to my little spot (the view was brilliant from there) & he sat silently for 30mins or so before beginning his way back up to the other guys. Just as he turned his back I saw a dolphin break the water out off the cape. I called out to Vin, "Dolphin!" & he quickly turned on his heals & made his way back down. As he did I couldn't help but think that the glimpse I had caught of it was too far out from the cape & that perhaps it was a lot bigger than I first thought. With both of us watching intently, the 'dolphin' broke the water once more, only this time, we could see that it was in no way a dolphin. It was a Humpback Whale. One massive Humback Whale. It didn't resurface again but it was an awesome sight none-the-less. The sun finally set at 10:20pm & with a hand full of pilgrims watching on from their own little spaces on the end of the cape a cheer went up & a lot of thumbs in the air to one another accompanied with satisfied smiles. One by one, we climbed back up, said goodbye & headed into the twilight on our seperate paths. The walk4one had come to a close.
I intend to write 3 more blog entries before calling it a day here on the internet. One entry from Paris next week (a quick-list look at the ins & outs of the last 18 months), an entry from World Youth Day in Sydney & then one quick sign-off from home in Tasmania & that's it.
I am particularly thankful to every person who has encourged me along this journey, who has prayed for me & with me, who has got me back on my feet after muggings & bashings, who has pointed me in the right direction when I was lost or fed me when I was hungry. Although I posted a blog each week there has obviously been a lot that went unsaid. I've had to learn to be thankful for what I didn't want to happen & in particular to forgive those who stuck guns or knives in my face or tried to take from me whatever it was I had. No matter how often I forgive those guys in Russia for trying to beat the living daylights out of me (for example), I still feel the need quite regularly to once again let go of my anger towards them & desire to become a Kung-Fu master & return to their bar & toagain forgive them & refocus back on God. I'm relieved to be able to let my body rest now as well. The reporting of the physical tole was sometimes masked due to my concern over being told to stop (stuborn, yes). Through Russia & Belarus particularly, I was suffering from an irregular heartbeat where my heart was trying to pump blood without having drawn any in. This in itself is normal & not too much to worry about so long as it doesn't occure more than a few times a day. I had a few sleepless nights though as it 'mis-fired' nearly every 30seconds for hours on end. It wasn't particularly pleasant. In fact, it was down right scarey. The three major factors for that condition are rapid weight lose, stress & physical fatigue; I satisfied all three criteria. My greatest battle though has probably been against myself. God is patient, very patient. The other issue that raised its head early on in this walk is that I am Catholic. It didn't take too long for me to realise that the invitation to pray for christian unity was easily lost amidst theolgical arguement or a desire to 'convert' me or vice versa so I began to simply introduce myself to people according to what I was doing. A few times, after explaining the mission & extending the invitation the people I was talking to agreed emphatically with the call to pray for unity & then proceeded to heatedly pull apart the un-godly Catholics, unaware that I was 'one of them'. Time & time again I had to simply bite my tongue & refocus the conversation on prayer & re-evangelisation. One particular time I wanted to go to mass on a Sunday but was staying with an evangelical family, to whom there was no difference between their church & mine. I understood & was deeply moved by their acceptance, but I'm Catholic because I believe that the eucharist is indeed the body & blood, soul & divinity of Jesus Christ, not because the Catholic Church was simply the nearest available house of God. I loved being with them during their church service but I felt unfulfilled without the eucharist & so I slipped away aftwards & ran through the town to find mass. I always felt as though I was treding a fine line & it was difficult at times to not offend. I haven't been walking praying for the unity of those christians who have the same beliefs as me or act upon their faith in the same manner, but I often suspected that I was accepted on that basis. Even within the Catholic Church. And yes, I realsed that I viewed other christians with tinted glasses according to their church background rather than on who they were. It simply drove home how seperated christians are. At times people heard my invitation & instinctively asked what church I was from. My answer then gave way to either instant acceptance or intant dismissal. It was always a challenge that drove me into a lot of thought & prayer but rarley made the blog for you to read. A radio interviewer wrapped up his program & interview with me by saying, "Yes, well in the end, I guess all that matters is that we are brothers & sisters in the Lord." I thought about it for a long time afterwards as I encountered more & more "What church are you from?" and I began to disagree with the interviewers closing remark. I began to conclude that "No, it's not a matter of "In the end we are all just brothers & sisters in the Lord & that's all that matters", but instead that "To begin with, we are all brothers & sisters in the Lord." It's a starting point, not a finishing point. It's a point to move forward from. I guess the one big crunch point that I've learnt along this journey is that unity is not a place we reach, but an action we are involved in & live out. I guess personally the big change has been that my passion for unity centred around theology (the truth) as I began in Brazil, but it's unity in love that has captured me throughout this walk. Unity in truth still holds its place as a present day emergency, but it was Christ's love that was most evidently missing in the world. Of all the poverties encountered, it was the poverty of love that shocked me the most & has challengd me personally. Please continue to pray for unity, please continue to pray for me & please continue to pray for one another. Thank you & God bless, Sam.
"I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:23
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1Cor 13:13

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Fellowship, Stinging Nettle & Lisps

Hello from Samos, a Benedictine Monastery village 120km west of Santiago de Compestela. It's 7:30am & I've found interent access so I'll take the chance to quickly write before entering into the final week of walking. Today is day 562 of 568. Not far now. I'm nearly jumping out of my skin with the prospect of stepping onto a plane bound for Australia in a very short time. I flashed my Australian drivers license to some guys I was having dinner with last night & they refused to believe that the photo was of me. They couldn't stop laughing. 18months of walking can change a person. I had a wonderful week on the road this past week as I met an energetic group of 18 to 30 year olds from all around the world who have become friends on the Camino & stuck together. I ate & walked with them for 3 days, enjoying the diverse conversations & ways of travelling. Two of the girls from England loved to sing while they walked, two of the guys from New York loved to rap, sing harmonies & talk about future plans while they walked & others enjoyed to have quiet time of contemplation but they'd always meet back up at the end of the day to share dinner. They have declared themselves the 'Fellowship' & have thus handed out names to each person according to JRR Tolkins 'The Lord of the Rings'. I'm pleased to report that I snared the title of Strider & anyone who has read the books or seen the movies will understand that I scored big on that one. Mind you, Philip from England was named Golim & was chuffed to bits! I spent the first day walking with Philip & Pat, two young Anglican fellas who have just completed a year of full monastic life with the Franciscans along with their friend Julian. The Camino is their re-entry into the 'outside world' as it has been, to a point, for me as well. We spoke at great length about re-entry, prayer, theology & the Camino itself & perhaps the resounding conversation that has stayed with me was after Philip commented about the use of churches here. Philip had entered the Cathedral in Leon to spend some time in prayer within a building he described as "Having been built to draw us into intimate pray" but found it difficult being the only one praying. The Cathedral was packed with pilgrims taking photos, buying souvenirs & in general, talking very loudly. He felt like he was back in the Jewish temple just before Jesus came in & over-turned all the trader's tables. The conversation that persued lasted a number of days (on & off) & we began to look at the Camino itself. There are a lot of people here 'searching' but unless what you're searching for is historical information for your next architectural project, the pilgrims are pretty much left to their own devices. In past years I might have convinced myself that there is very little Phil & I could do to help people focus on the spiritual side of the pilgrimage but after the last 18 months I might just give this one a bit more thought. On the third day of walking with some of the 'fellowshipers' Philip & I had concluded another discussion about the Camino when we decided to completly change the mood & show Elizabeth, a young lady from the USA who was walking with us, how to play cricket. I had a small foam ball in my bag & Phil simply adjusted his walking pole into a comfortable bat before I bowled to him on the sidewalk in a small town called Villafranca. Phil swung through & connected so well that the little foam ball disappeard skywards. It was about now that I realised that playing cricket in front of the village's historic castle-like town hall wasn't a particularly great place to play. Location, location, location. The ball canoned into the stone work only just above the top window of the 3storey 'castle' before lobbing back out into the main street, bouncing right in front of the only car travelling down the road, bringing it to a quick stop. Phil, laughing uncontrolably, slinked away quickly leaving me to retrieve his handy-work form the middle of the road. Nice one Phil. He still maintains it was the best hit of his life. We left Villafranca soon after & along with Elizabeth, played soccer/hockey along the deserted country road all the way to our destination 10km further afield. The days have been searingly hot lately & that day was no different. A medium sized river ran through the tiny town so we took the opportunity to relax in the, as it turned out, absolutley freezing waters of the mountain river. After nearly half and hour of wading through the water skimming the ball back & forth to one another I noticed a flash of light right next to my foot. I reached down & pulled out a three-prong fish hook & held it aloft. Philip & I decided it was time to hop out & as we clammered up onto the bank I commented that the way this walk around the world has gone, in the past I would've found the hook by treading on it. I then leaned back & placed my left arm directly into stinging nettles... You just have to laugh some times. I just can't win. I was left with a sting that lasted well into the evening but it was, after all, better than having a fish hook through my toe. That evening I said goodbye to the 'fellowship' & next morning headed off at 5am for the final mountain ascent of this journey. Just as I completed the mountain traverse & was pulling into a town 42km from the place I started at, I bumped back into Oisin (the Irishman) who has also been pushing into some long distance walking. We looked around for a Saturday evening mass but concluded that the best option was to walk another 10km down the road to Samos where there was a Benedictine Monasterey. Two of the pilgrims we meet along the way turned out to be priests so it had a great sense of the 'old ways' as we journied together towards the celebration of mass. There are more & more pilgrims on the road everyday now & personal space can be difficult to find. I've witnessed a number of clashes of personality this week as well. One pilgrim, Dean, is doing it on horseback & while I was chatting with him on the side of the street in a tiny village a shop owner came out & opened up with the most profane language as he told Dean & his horse where to go. Dean was incensed & handed the reigns to a German pilgrim standing nearby as he went into the shop after the shopkeeper. The arguement was heated & the poor old German pilgrim had no idea what to do with the horse. He looked up at everyone else standing there & simply commented, "I'm holding a horse." Dean was eventually back & road off quietly (into the sunset). At other times I've seen pilgrims & hostel owners enter heated exchanges but the pearlers are always the ones between pilgrims at 5:30 in the morning. Namely, those trying to sleep until 6:30am & those who couldn't give a stuff if anyone is trying to sleep or not. For many, I think it's the first time they've stepped outside their own home & the concept of 'other people' just hasn't sunk in yet. The funny one was while I was talking with Evan from New York. We were chatting in a hostel kitchen when a young man came in, grabed a glass, turned the tap on & had a drink of water. He then walked back out, leaving the tap running full. The look on Evan's face was priceless as he contemplated what he was looking at before reaching over & turning the tap off. He was speechless. The other funny thing I've had to get used to here is the language. I learnt a lot of Spainish while walking through South & Central America but I hadn't realised how different the accent is here. Throughout the America's, the number 5 & 11, for example, are pronounced as "sin-co" & "on-ze" respectively. Here though, it's pronounced as "thin-co" & "on-the". I couldn't believe it that all these people had lisps! "That's three people in a row now who have a lisp! What's going on?" Hmmm, I've now learnt that the accent is quiet different... and no one has a lisp. So, from here I have around 4days of walking to Santiago de Compestela where I will meet with mum & dad again before heading off for the final 3days out to Cape Finesterre on the Atlantic coastline. A lot of prayer still to be prayed, but the kilometres on foot will possibly be over be this time next week. See you then I hope. God bless, Sam.
"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, & patience is better than pride." Ecclesiastes 7:8
ps: A big hello to everyone in Malta!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Family, a Serpants Head & Relativism

Hello from Ledigos, somewhere in between Burgos & Leon. 'Somewhere' for the simply reason that I spend a good portion of my day not having a single idea of where I am. Two mornings in a row now the sun has inexplicably risen in the 'north'. I have thus concluded that I have no sense of direction out here amongst the wheat-covered hills, I'm just following the signs to Santiago. This past week had a huge suprise install that had me somewhat speechless. I left Santo Domingo just after sunrise & walked out towards the egde of town with 2 Irishmen I'd met the day before. As we approached a quiet intersection in the tiny village I spotted a man & a woman standing on the opposite side of the road with their backpacks on the ground beside them as they sipped their morning coffee. I thought to myself, "Wow, that woman looks like my mum," & continued chatting with Pat & Oisin. As we crossed the road though the man & woman motioned towards me & smiled. I don't know how long it took to register but a state of confusion set in as I finally recognised them. It was indeed, my mum & dad, standing on the corner of the tiny Spanish village, sipping coffee. The last time I saw them was in November of 2006 so it has been a long time, shall we say, between drinks. I was so confused. It's all part of a conspiracy that seems to grow larger everytime I talk to someone. I had received an email 2weeks ago from a good friend, Luke McCormack, informing me that he had a good mate over here in Europe who would be keen to catch me as he passed through Burgos. Luke told me to be at the Cathedral steps at 9am on my rest day but didn't pass on any contact details for 'Stephen & Jenny Russell', his friends. I smelled a rat straight away. Luke is meticulous when it comes to planning so I immediately assumed that I would in fact be meeting Luke himself instead of these suspicious friends of his who have no contact details. What I didn't realise was that Luke was a part of something a little better thought out than I gave him credit for. My parents had flown to Europe for there first holiday since about 1949, taken a cruise to Malta & then followed my itinerary to Santo Domingo... & waited. If they missed me, the Cathedral in Burgos had been set up as the back-up. Between leaving Tasmania & arriving in Santo Domingo I happened to be a good son & phone home. Twice. In relation to mum & dad's where abouts my brother, Chris, & older sister, Sophie, successfully lied to me & so it came as one almighty confusing shock to see them standing there. After a very quick 1hr reunion on the side of the street I was back into the walking as mum & dad headed via bus to the next town to organise some accomodation & food fpr the evening. It has been fantastic to see them. Unfortunately dad has been hit by some form of gastro & so spent the first few days being very sick. I've continued walking & they've continued busing it to the next destination. I'm out of bus territory tonight so we'll meet back up tomorrow again hopefully. Mum & dad did make it 'onto the track' for yesterday's walk though & with a day up my sleeve we were able to take it slow as dad fought out 26km in 32degC heat. Not bad for a guy who has spent most of the past 7days either in bed or locked in the bathroom. Mum had one pace & it wasn't dad's so every so often she had to sit & smell the flowers until we caught back up. Dad nicked my walking poles for the day & loved them. I'm glad he did because I love them too. Guess what your getting for christmas dad? Get your own poles... :-) Mum & dad staying here in Spain until the end of the journey & will duck off everynow & then to be tourists but return in time for the final week. When I was a little tacker I could always rely on mum & dad to cheer me over the finish line no matter what I was doing; and they're still doing it. It's a great way to bring in the end of this particular journey. Haha, I have to comment though on mum's first 2 questions - "So are you going to continue these adventures or have you been cured?" and "So... who are you going to marry when you get home?" Does anyone else have a mum like this?? Dad just sits there & smiles. Now, the 2 Irishmen I mentioned, Pat & Oisin, they've played a huge role this week as well as we walked for 3 or 4 days side by side. They'd met only a day before I met them but the 3 of us had similar backgrounds & enjoyed each others company. Both are family men so spent a good majority of their time talking of their loved ones. I invited them to join me in some time of prayer as we walked & they eagerly accepted, which for Pat was the first time in a very long time. We prayed for around 15minutes that first day & then found ourselves having a discussion about prayer itself. While we were chatting away, Oisin, who is terrified of snakes, stepped right on top of a poisonous adder but thankfully had snapped his foot away before it was able to get it's fangs anywhere near him. The snake was writhing & as Oisin backed further away I checked the snake out to find that Oisin had split the adder's side wide open. It was a fatal wound so I told the guys I'd put it out of it's misery. I lowered my boot carefully & pushed down hard, crushing its head. Then Pat piped up, "Hey guys! This is really significant! Here we are, having just prayed together & then talking about prayer & you've crushed the serpants head!" Pat's eyes were wide open (Oisin was keen to still move further away), "I have to tred on it too!" The poor snake was pretty much dead but Pat was as keen as mustard to be a part of what was a very symbolic moment. Whereas I lowered my boot cautiously onto the snake, Pat practically jump on it & vigorously twisted his foot from side to side to make sure the job was done. As he lifted his foot triumphantly though it was with a certain amount of confusion that we were left with nothing but the gravel road. "Umm, Pat, I think it's stuck to the bottom of your boot, mate." I've never seen a guy shake his leg so quickly & yes, it dig eventually peel off & flop to the ground. As 'co-incidental' as it may have been, it did stand as a very symbolic moment for us, particularly for Pat who was rediscovering prayer. Over the next few days we continued to walk, talk & pray for christian unity & in particular, their families. Pat only had a week here in Spain so has had to end his time here & return to Limerick but Oisin is still striding out & getting faster & faster. I met Oisin on a hill top over-looking a vast expanse of wheat & barley fields & he was struggling badly with a siezed knee. He's a physical education teacher & not too keen on the whole giving up notion & has actually now ploughed through the pain into some more painless days. He's a pretty tough nut. There are many people out here walking to Santiago de Compostela & so the conversations obviously vary greatly. In the last 4days I've had a conversation with an atheist who believed that praying for christian unity was intolerant of other people's beliefs, a christian who believed that praying for unity & being Catholic was hypocritcal & an agnostic who wanted to know why on earth I'd put so much effort into anything associated with the Church. The first conversation was difficult because the fellow was a very philosophical & 'spiritual' man who, I thought, didn't actually believe in anything. He believed that Jesus was a wise man but that his message had been twisted by Christians. "The most important thing," he told me, "is that we do good in the world." I told him I thought that his view was very relativistic & by whose standards was he going to do good?" He actually conceeded that point but that was the only one. It was a very long discussion that finally ended with him saying, "Let us breathe deeply & be at one," and me saying, "God bless." He thought I was being intolerant of other belief systems & I thought he was ignoring them & was looking for spirituality without the need for faith or responsibility. We swaped reading material & addresses so the conversation may not be over yet. It's always difficult to enter a conversation that begins with an accusation but the third conversation began with a question so it was already on a differnt footing. With my mum & dad snug in their hotel for the night, I took up my spot on the pilgrim house (Albergue) floor on one of the mattreses. The young lady setting up next to me knew who I was & after I'd commented about the long night ahead due to the already resounding snors echoing through the room, she began to ask a few questions about what I was doing & why. That was at about 10pm. By 2:30am we were still whispering back & forth about God, the Church, prayer & theology but the old eye lids were starting to get heavy. I'd organised to meet mum & dad at 7am so I was carrying a thumping headache that morning as another day on the road wavered precariously on only 4hours sleep. That happened to be the day mum and dad joined me though so I was happy to be walking at dad's pace. I've noticed that the number of people signed up to pray at 4:01 has jumped by over 50 this week (compared to the normal 5 ot 6 a week) so for whatever reason this is, thankyou to whoever may have had a hand in spreading the invitation! It's 10:40pm right now & time for me to be in bed so I'll post some photos & jump to it. Goodnight & God bless! Sam
"I have given you authority to trample on snakes & scorpions & to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." Luke 10:19

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Spilled Blood & God's Goodness

Spain... the final frontier. A belated hello from Lagroño in northern Spain! Sorry for the omission last week & thankyou for the prayers & concern of those wondering where I was. It was simply a case of no internet available, so thankyou to Chris for posting a blog on my behalf (I should've known he wouldn't be able to not help himself to a few personal side comments). So, 2 weeks have past since I left Toulouse & it feels like a month has past. The first night out from Toulouse I had a young man, Nils, find me accomodation in the church offices (thanks mate) where I was able to quickly check my email. Confusingly, I discovered a stack of emails either congratulating me or questioning me about my engagement! I have a facebook account & I had, while in Toulouse, changed me facebook 'relationship status' to "Engaged to my backpack", but all that showed up on my facebook profile was "engaged" so I had to very quickly difuse the bomb! With that out of the way & my profile changed I headed on towards Auch where I met with a fellow called Charles & his good mate Jean. Charles is leading the Toulouse World Youth Day pilgrim group & had been notified of me passing through by Tim Davis & a french girl, Sophie, who work for the Melbourne Archdiocese. Charles was on the ball quickly & drove out to meet me for a restaraunt dinner 100km from his home. Jean lived down the road from Auch so Charles had called him up & organised for me to stay with him & his wife on their family estate. The estate was fantastic & their hospitality supurb. It was very close to being a holiday! Quickly back to the restaraunt dinner, Charles & Jean were keen for me to try some local produce so I had a choice of Duck's liver or garlic Snails. I chose the snails. And it actually tasted all right. Not sure I'll ever order them again but hey, if I ever have a desperate night out in the wilderness again perhaps I won't go hungry? So long as I have access to boiling water & a bucket full of garlic. Jean organised for me to meet the mayor of a town I was passing through the next day, Mirande, & so a little media attention was given to the walk & thankfully the oppurtunity to extend the inivtation to pray for unity went out just that little bit further. A gentleman I met at Jean's organised accomodation for me in Tarbes (the next town) with the Colonel family & Charles organised accomodation for me for 2days in Lourdes (the next town again). So all up it was one of the most spoilt weeks for accomodation since Montana & Canada. As I was approaching Lourdes I did have a bit of a slip up that could have ended worse than it did. As is normal when being human, I needed a toilet break, but with nothing in sight & a very steep embankment on both sides of the road with thick forest along them, I had to opt for the one path 'out of sight' that I could find - a steep, 10m high concrete culvert where the road passed over a small river. I left my backpack & poles at the top & began my descent. After about, say, 50cm, I got that sinking feeling that I had misjudged the steepness & with an inocent, "Oh-ohh" my feet shot out from under me & I slide on my back down the conrete slippery slide. The next problem was that the hole at the base of the concrete culvert where the water flows through was around 5m wide with only a 1m section of conrete actually touching down on the ground. As I slid down with greater speed I was slightly on target for the tunnel edge & so to manoeuvre away from a fall off the edge into the river I had to use my hands to steer myself. Concrete:1, Skin on my Hands:Nil. My hands weren't designed for steering down concrete slabs. Thankfully though, I touched down with a gentle thud at the bottom corner, away from the drop into the river & with only slightly bloodied hands. Yes, they were bleeding & may I say, I was left with quite a sting indeed! I tried to shake the pain out (it sort of worked) & then lamented my descent & how on earth I was ever going to climb back up. I quickly went to the toilet (that is what I'd gone there for after all) & then tried to scale back to me gear but didn't ever make it past the first metre. The option left for me was to walk back up through the steep blacberry-covered forest floor. Bleeding hands on the way down, bleeding legs on the way back up. Well, that was fun. What stupid thing can I do around the next corner? I bought a new backpack cover this week as my old one was no longer water proof. The only one available though was an army disposal's camouflage cover so I'm a little concerned about my visibilty from behind while it's raining. I'm wearing khaki trousers so from the back I look like not much at all (photo to the right). It has actually rained a lot over the past few weeks so it's come in handy & it works well so for that I'm very pleased. While staying with the Colonel family in Tarbes I had a late shower just as they were heading off to bed & in a moment of un-co-ordination managed to lose my grip on the soap & as if in slow motion it made a direct line for my enflamed, fleshy left big toe (yes, the toe is still there but only just). As it hurtled towards my constant agony I snatched my foot away to the side but only succeeded in smashing it into the shower wall with uncompromising force. Blood interspersed with the shower's water immediately & I was left nearly convulsing as I silently screamed the worse shower scene scream since 'Psycho'. A silent scream because everyone was going to bed, but my mouth was agasp for at least 10seconds & my body didn't stop shaking for another minute. It was a long time before that soap block was picked up again. Once in Lourdes I settled in for a tightly scheduled rest day with a series of tasks needing attention. Firstly was a series of forms for a backstage pass at World Youth Day (I'm speaking on a few of the days) & then the processing of all the dvd's from this journey so far. The original camera, which used tape, was stolen in Costa Rica & replaced with a dvd camera. I didn't know that I had to formalise each disc before sending them back to Australia so poor Brendan (Mr Editor) had to bundle them all up & send them to me in France. I collected them, finalised them & bundled them back to him so hopefully something will be ready for World Youth Day. Lourdes is a fascinating place where a series of apparitions & thousands of miracles have seen people flocking to the place for nearly 150years. The basic gist is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a particular appariton, asked a young girl to do penace for the return of sinners to Christ. The act of penace was to drink from a muddy pool, which the young girl did, & from there burst a spring of natural fresh water, which continues to flow today. Like a modern day 'Serpent on the Staff' (book of Exodus) there have been thousands of healings attributed to pouring on or submersion in the water with the expectation of healing. There were people everywhere. Ten's of thousands of people; Young & old, walking, limping, in wheelchairs, on crutches, with problems left, right & centre. I fitted in well. I went to a Chinese mass first of all & then made my way down to the running spring. I'd washed all my clothes the night before & they still hadn't dried so despite it being only 8degC I was pottering around in shorts & flip-flops. I'd been very catiously making my way through the crowds trying to keep my toe out of harm's way but at last I was standing on the edge of the running stream. I actually didn't want to even try at first but after a quick prayer & a "Jesus, I trust you" I decided that I'd better get my toe in there if I was to finish this walk. I slipped my left flip-flop off & let the water pour over it... & waited. I'm not sure what I was expecting but nothing happened. I prayed again, that what ever happened I would accept, but that I would like it to finally be healed, please. I limped on from Lourdes towards the beautiful Pyrenees & at around that time you should've been hearing from me but it was the wrong part of the world to try & find internet access. I couldn't even find a mass that weekend!! I walked 20-predawn-km to make it to a possible mass on the Sunday morning only to find that it was being held in another town out of my reach. There was confirmation (baptism in the Spirit) that weekend so everyone had come together in one place. One place where I was not. Once at the foot of the Pyrenees I was told that my destination the following day on top of the mountain range had closed that very day for the rest of the season (it's a ski village). This left me with 2 options; sleep in my tent at 1800m above sea level or walk 53km across the Pyrenees to the first major Spanish town. I opted to walk & so with an early night I rose at 4:30am & started my ascent in the dark. It was fantastic. It was seriously supurb. The road I was walking along had an average of only one car every 30mins & it was surrounded by the most breathe-taking mountains, vallies & rivers I've passed through on this whole walk. The steepness of the road was also breathe-taking, literally. At around 1300m, while I was spending some time in prayer, I walked up into the thick clouds & continued upwards. I could hear cow bells ringing at times but nothing else. It was cool, damp, white & quiet. By the time I made my first stop at 11am I was sitting at 1804m above sea level & 27km from my point of origin. Not a bad first leg. It was getting colder by the minute though & without my Canada/Russia winter gear I resorted to wearing my spare socks on my hands as I commenced the downward section into Spain. Eventually I descended from the clouds & was met by an awesome view of a tree filled valley with rocky escarpments surrounding it & 5 eagles doing circle-work over the far mountain. Then the clouds swept down & I was once again surrounded by 'whiteness'. A few hours later I was back in sunshine & looking down a steep, winding section of road that wound back & forth for around 3km. The section in between the first 2 bends was cushy mountain grass so without too much hesitation (& obviously having already forgotten about my cement descending attempt) I jumped the saftey barrier & like one of those Frenchman chasing the roling disc of cheese down the mountain side & gathered speed with ease. Unlike the Frenchman who chase the roling disc of cheese down a mountain side, I did it with finese & didn't fall! I also did it slower, but it was so much fun. All the pressure was going through my heals so the toe was fine for once but after a few succesful traverses I was faced with a thickening pine forest that offered new obstacles. As I crossed the road into a very thick section I wondered if this was bear territory (the Pyrenees are home to many bears). I thought it unlikely & continued on, weaving through the trees. There a fewer things that get me out of a happy 'mountain descending' frame of mind than trotting past enormous foot-prints that have made a 30cm depression in soft ground that I'm only making a 5cm depression in. So... looks like it's the road from here! I shot out of there quicker than you can say, "You idiot" & found myself standing on the edge of a 4m drop down to the roadside. Hmmm, my dumbness surrounds me. The road had been cut into the mountain side for that entire length of road so after a quick contemplation of walking back up the mountain side through the soggy 'what are those footprints' ground I thankfully found a pine tree growing from the roadside up along the face of the road cutting. I reached out, grabbed hold & climbed down. Note to self: Let go of the walking poles before climbing down a tree - two hands makes it easier. How on earth am I still alive? Anyway, I was on my way again & still enjoying the whole 53km. I continued to pray & of course, sing (great echoes in places). It was a very easy place to give thanks to God. Spain was imediately different to France with the forests & green pastures giving way to dry, thorn bush covered slopes. I'm now on the Camino de Santiago for the final 3weeks of the journey but I've had trouble with accomodation over the last few nights. I have with me 5 offical letters of recomendation from christian leaders but it counts for nothing here. They want to see a pilgrim's passport with stamps from the visited churches in it so I've actually been rejected from a few places for not being a proper pilgrim. No, I'm not here for the same reason everyone else is but I still need a bed. Thankfully, each rejection has been followed by the person calling me back & at last offering me a bed. I wanted to make a stand & not aquire a passport but I remembered a certain teaching about chritianity not being about self-assertion, so today I found a priest, Fr Carlos, who, after I'd explained my predicament, was very happy to issue me a pilgrims passport & send me on my way with his blessing. The place I stayed in last night has had 900 people pass through it in the last 2weeks so I am meeting many, many people on the road. I spent the first few days taking the quiet country roads, avoiding the crowds, but today I mustered up the courage to actually walk on the pilgrim route with other people in front & behind & I quite enjoyed it. It's probably a good one for my doctor of psychology sister, but after walking alone for so long, the stream of people on the camino was actually a bit threatening. I've met some great people in the last few days though so I'm warming to the idea of having others around me while I walk & pray & I spent some time walking with a Korean man this morning followed by two young gents from Laramie, Wyoming (I passed through Laramie 7months ago!). Last night I sat at a table with an Episcopal from Austin, Texas, & a Free Evangelical from Norway & we discussed life, walking & eventually unity. The Norwegian fellow asked what the theological differences between christians really were & so piece by piece we each started listing & discussing areas of difference & thankfully all with an air of lightness. The Norwegian fellow made an insightful comment at the end though, "Wow, we actually have a lot more in common than not." That was a good place for us to wrap up & head for dinner. I went to mass a few days ago & just as the celebration started I stood up (as is normal) & in doing so slid my feet forward under the pew but cracked my left foot into one of the pew's stands. The corner of the stand under the pew connected right on the wound on my right toe (I was back in flip-flops) & as everyone else sang the opening hymn I was left once again convulsing in agony as every vein in my body protruded further & further out. From behind it must have looked like I was having a seizure. The pain was intense & when I eventually looked down I saw a small pool of blood forming on the church floor. I can tell you, I didn't move much for the next 30mins & communion was a slow & taxing affair as the blood trickled under my toe & began to stick my foot to the flip-flops. Here's the deal though. The last 2days have been the first since my toe gave way in Italy where it has not hurt during the days walking at all. It's actually healing over. I've averaged over 40km a day this past week but the toe has actually began to heal over even though I've split it wide open twice. No more pain, no infection... less & less blood at the end of the day. All in God's good time. Now this is a 'graduation' (end of the journey) gift indeed! Onwards from here to Burgos & hopefully in 23days time I'll be wrapping this journey up on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Sorry for the long blog but it was 2weeks worth :-) God bless & please keep praying for the unity of the body of Christ. Sam.
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No internet, Where's sam and here is Christopher

hello but not from Sam. It's Christopher his Lil bro here (back in Tasmania) and I've taken over. No not really, Sam gave me a very quick call and asked if i could just place this blog up to let every one know that he is OK. There just happens to be no Internet in the area he is in at the moment, or for the next week. Sam has crossed the Pyrenees and is now in Spain. He is now two days ahead of schedule due to very poor weather up in the Pyrenees, so as usual decided to walk two days in one. He said lots of cows with bells, and the highest mountain he climbed was 1800 meters. I didn't receive much more information than that due to Sam ringing from an expensive pay phone. Sam will be back soon. But for now, good bye from Christopher the more handsome and younger clear boy.