From the city that invented spaghetti bolognese, Bologna, greetings! This week didn't look particularly difficult on paper but I was certainly stretched a few times none-the-less. It was around 190km from Vienna to Bologna, but I'd only traveled 10km when, while talking to a parish priest, I realised that the top pocket on my backpack was wide open & my wallet had gone. I was a little, say we say, frenzied, & the poor priest, who didn't speak a word of english had no idea what the problem was but wanted to help somehow. Eventually I managed to stop stripping everything out of my bag to explain what had happened & he offered a simple gesture of, "Is it in your pockets?" I said no, & brushed my hand past my pocket... "Oh yes, it is!" It's so stressful being this dumb sometimes. So, on I went praying my way to the city of Padua. A place had been oragnised for me to stay at in Padua (thanks Tony!) with a young couple in an ecumenical community. Enrique & Adele had very generously opened their home up without a moment's notice. I hadn't quite reached Padua by nightfall so they drove out & picked me up. The next day was a peaceful rest day & we spoke a great deal about many issues & opportunities within the movement towards Christian unity. After the rest day, Enrique dropped me back where he'd picked me up from & I completed the rest of the walk into Padua with the intention of then coninuing with that days walk to a town 35km further on. While passing through the city centre I stopped in at St Anthony's Basilica but wasn't particularly hopeful of meeting anyone there. Five million people pass through it's doors each year so I figured it would be like all large places & I wouldn't get anywhere. The basilica has Vatican Guards throughout & I managed to get talking with one who spoke english. Thankfully, he was very interested in what I was doing & so reached out & stopped the St Anthony's Basilica Franciscan Friars Provincial who just happened to be walking past. He was like all Franciscans I've ever met, humble & generous, & quickly invited me to join him for lunch & explain more of what I was doing. Out through the back of the basilica we went, through guarded doors, a courtyard & a few more sets of private doors until we arrived in a mess-hall filled with 60 very loud and jovial Franciscans! I've never seen so many priests in one place. In fact, 50 of them were priests & 10 were seminarians, but all were laughing & chatting as they shared their meal. The provincial asked me to take a seat as he called over one of the priests who spoke english & very soon I was telling my tale to a full table. To cut a long story short, they offered me a room for the night, I accepted, & then spent the rest of the day being inspired out my socks! Firstly I skipped down the road (not litterally) to the church of Saint Leopold Mandic, where I met more Franciscans, living total poverty, sharing the gospel & loving every minute of it. Leopold Mandic is a bit of a hero of mine. He spent the majority of his life praying & sacrificing for the unity of the church & in bringing the comforting words of God's forgiveness to all. From their I raced over to the 3rd largest basilica in the world (can't remember the name if it...) & found the tomb of St Luke the Evangelist (author of the Gospel of Luke & Acts) & viewed one of his paintings (it was kind of falling apart). Simply standing there looking at his tomb inspired me with a great sense of wonder at those who have gone before us & laid their lives down for the Lord. Then I raced back over to St Anthony's Basilica where I learned more about how this incredible man was used by God to convert & build-up thousands of people. I then had the opportunity to head to confession with an english speaking priest so I grabbed it. For those not familiar with 'confession', it is simply the act of coming to the church (the priest being it's representative), confessing your sins & the priest sharing with you God's forgiveness. It's as simple as that, but it still gets me to hear the words of forgiveness rather than just 'know' them. A bit like hearing someone say, "I love you" as opposed to just knowing that they do but never hearing it. So, I drifted off to sleep in my Franciscan cell that night as light as a feather & inspired well beyond the end of this walk in July. Fr Allesandro saw me off the following morning & I was on my again, praying for unity, conversion, faith, etc towards Rovigo. It was a long 45km & I was especially sore for some reason. I visited a few churches but the reception was cold on each account. I'd introduce myself & the mission & extend the invitation to pray for unity & they'd look at me & ask, "What do you want? Nothing? Good. Have a good walk. Goodnight." It didn't bother me too much but what really hit home was when I discovered that their was a conference on in town & every hotel was booked-up! I had nowhere to sleep & it was already night. To make matters worse, as I exited the last hotel, a tad despondent, I realised that all the restaurants & cafe's were closing in a flurry of clanking security shutters. I hadn't eaten dinner yet! I walked to the edge of town & into a service station. They were shutting too & I couldn't even get a drink. "Ok, lord, where are we going? What's the deal here?" There were 2 women & a man standing outside waiting for their friend closing the service station & one of the young women asked me what I was looking for. I replied, "Food & a bed." They jumped to it. All 4 of them started racking their brains for a place to stay & eat at & one of them, Barbara, began making phone calls. After 10mintues of nothing they eventually hit a home run with a small bed & breakfast only a kilometre away with a cheap, late night restaurant next door. They bundled me into the car & drove me to the B&B (I walked back to that point the next day). I've just noticed that Barbara is signed up on the list of prayers for unity now - all in the Lord's plans! It would be nice to know what's going on half the time though! I'll just trust & keep my head up :-) Yesterday I walked & prayed from Ferrara but after 11km was pulled over by the police & asked for my passport. I didn't have it. My top pocket was missing an item once again. This time however, it wasn't in my pocket. I'd left it at the hotel reception back in Ferrara. The policeman wasn't exactly happy with me & I wasn't exactly wallowing in pride either. The last time I didn't have my passport I was arrested (see final blog from the USA). Eventually they let me go though & I was left to do a 3hour return trip made up of walking & taking the train before I was back in the country side WITH my passport. I met a Ukrainian lady on the way & she roped me into helping her carry a mighty-heavy bag for her. Almost lost the circulation in my hand. Last night I arrived in a small town with no hotel & the parish priest sent me off to a place in the neighboring countryside. It turned out to be a homeless men's shelter! Oh well, I guess I was what I was. I had a great night trying to make conversation with the 12 men there & I felt very much at home with the guys as we silently ate, sorry, I mean, shoveled our meals down. I chatted for a while with one of the men particularly. He has a job lined up but he doesn't start for another 20 days. Until then, he has no home & no money. What was amazing though was how hard faced everyone was at the beginning of the night compared with how relaxed & jovial they all were by breakfast time. Two good meals, a bed & some relative security for a short time. It made a world of difference. We all made our way back to the train station this morning. We shook hands & then some caught the train, others sat down & waited for the day to 'happen' & I walked on. I attended mass this morning in the town of St Pietro & then stopped in the next town for lunch. Everything was shut except for the most expensive restaurant this side of Paris. I ordered 2 things off the menu, tortellini & a beef salad. Did you know that a beef salad in Italy means that you get long slivers of thinly cut raw meat draped across your salad? I didn't know that. Did you know that the sight of raw meat draped across artichokes is enough to make me feel sick? Unbelievable. I was so hungry, I was so embarrassed, I was so about to vomit in a posh restaurant. I flicked through my Italian phrase book but nowhere could I find, "Can I have the cow cooked please?" Thankfully, a few kilometres down the road I was able to buy some muesli bars. And if you're wondering, yes I did try it (add that to the sheep's stomach & cows blood of Brazil). I then ate made good use of chewing gum. So from Bologna, where I arrived a few hours ago, it's ciao for now. Who knows what's in store for this week! God does. God bless & peace be with you, Sam.
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." Acts 13:38