Hello from Siena, Italy! I was walking along yesterday through some of the most spectacular vineyards & rolling hills I'm ever likely to see & thought, "I wonder where I am." I checked my map & "Oh, I'm in Tuscany. No wonder it's beautiful." So, hello from Tuscany! From Bologne to Prato to Florence to Siena has been one of the more relaxing stretches for a long while. There was actually some space on the side of a few roads & the ones for which there was nothing, well, there weren't any cars so it didn't really matter. There's something satisfying about walking down the middle of a winding road in the middle of Tuscany to the sound of birds whistling & nothing else. It has, however, rained for the past 2days & quite heavily at times. That put a dampner on the taking of photographs but not on the walking & praying. So other than birds I've also been joined by the sound of rain hitting my jacket's hood. A few days ago I ruined the peaceful mood by rubbing my eye with the hand I'd been using to pick flowers & grass seeds with as I walked along the edge of the road. Something I'd picked didn't like me & I had an intense hay-fever reaction causing the right eye nearly close over completly (check out the photo). It hurt! Another lesson learnt. This morning at around 6:30am I was joined on the road by an unexpected visitor - a wolf. It was probably 100m in front of me when we spotted each other & it quickly took flight through a neighbouring vineyard. I grabed a couple of seconds worth of footage before it disappeared but it was great to just see one (& runnning away at that). A few of the locals disputed the existence of wolves in the area but they soon changed their tone with wide eyes as they watched the few seconds of footage on the handycam. Apparently they do exist. Big critter it was too. The walking has been very satisfying but the inviting part of the mission has been a little strained. This is a high pilgrim part of the world & many churches are quick to presume that I'm a pilgrim looking for a handout. I haven't been received particularly well in a few places & they've been quick to palm me off. There is cultural habit in this region of finishing each others sentences. Unfortunately everyone seems to guess the end of my sentence incorrectly & it then takes a few minutes to get the message across that I'm not, for example, there to ask for money. At one church, while I was introducing myself to a lady hanging out the third storey window, she quickly disappeared somewhere around, "I'm walking around the world..." & returned with a few coins wrapped in a tissue & tossed it out the window to me. I tried to explain that this wasn't why I was there but she just smiled & shut the window. At another church I stood back & watched 3 people have a heated arguement over where I could stay. I had already stayed in that city & was actually on my out (it was about 9am) & was not looking for accomodation. I hadn't at any stage mentioned accomodation! I tried to enter into the arguement but they kept telling me to wait. Eventually I just gave them the farmer's whistle & they stopped & turned to me, "I-do-not-need-accomodation". All 3 looked very confused & one of them asked, "Well what do you want? Do you want food?" "No, I don't want food." It has been like this day after day & has stretched me massively. It's probably good stretching though. I like to be heard out but I'm just having to adapt to the cultural method of communication. We get to the point in the end. As a direct consequence of this, when someone asks if I'm a pilgrim, I now say, "No, I'm a missionary." Most of the pre-conceived ideas are associated with pilgrims but there are few about missionaries & it gives me more of an oppurtunity to get the invitation across. I'm often asked where I finish walking & previously, when asked this question, I reply, "Santiago de Compestela", but this has pilgrim conetations plastered all over it, so I now simply say that I'm finishing on the Atlantic Ocean in Spain & the onversation moves on smoothly. This region has also hit my pocket pretty badly. It is very expensive. I easily spend 4days worth of funds each day but will try to make up for it with my tent once the weather fines up. Perhaps some hospitality as well will help. I can only hope! I took my scheduled rest day 2days ago & once again rested in a homeless men's shelter. It was the Emmaus Community workshop where they provide work & bed for thsoe who need it. The centre was set up by a husband & wife & a priest 30years ago. All 3 are still there, workign hard, but now joined by the couples 8 children. Wow - eight. I learnt 3 names. This week I also met a priest who was full of energy & was very welcoming. Fr Luciano almost convinced me to take a short detour via Assisi on my way to Rome but the extra 3days just isn't doable. And in the end, it doesn't make any difference where I am, the invitation is the same & the prayer is the same. I'll hopefully get there another time & just sit on a hill with time to just 'be'. The struggle with the communication problems has forced me into prayer a lot but what has also been on my mind as I pray for unity in truth & in love is the truth side of unity. I've been very concerned about the love side of disunity but of late a few incidents in a row have set my mind rolling on truth. The primary question is how do we (Christians) accept one another in love without encouraging any heresies that may exist, but to iradicate them... in love? So, all week, I've been back & forth thinking about various accusations of heresy from pretty much every church to at least one other. I could write a book on my thoughts but at perhaps 'the right time' I read a line from St Leopold Mandic's diary that put it all into some perspective. I left the booklet with the Emmaus shelter, but the passage read something like this, "The most important factor in the reunification of Christians, isn't our prayers, nor is it unity dialouge, but God's grace." Amen to that! So, with an adaption of a St Francis' prayer in my heart, "Lord, save me from the desire to be heard" I'm heading further south tomorrow into the, as always, unknown. God bless & peace be with you & as my friend Dave Raba once wrote to me, "May we always be inspired by the unity of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit." Cheers, Sam.
"Take my yoke upon you & learn from me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls." Matt 11:29