Monday, May 8, 2017

Into the arms of humanity

Continuing along the spectacular Katy Trail, we occasionally fall in with day trippers and dog walkers and through-going cyclists. Connections are made, comparisons of notes, we see how small the world is. It's uncanny how few degrees of separation there are among us all.

My companion pilgrims have by now experienced for themselves the magic that appears every day in pilgrimland. They trust without expressing apprehension and events that can't be planned happen to our delight. Several churches where we've spent the night have been unarranged, yet have turned out to be delightful encounters.

After crossing the Missouri River, we left cutesy Rocheport, having slept in the historical United Methodist Church, with a list of potential churches that would work for us for the next night, but had no contact information, I went on ahead [oh, this is why the guys walk so much more than I do...I walk 3 or 4 hours a day, the guys walk 6 or 8, same distance, but the fellas take more time].

Using Google Maps as starting point, I strayed from the Katy to find Mt Celestial church that Google depicted as a suitable country church with a hall on the back but no phone number listed. Yeah..., no..., reality is, it's boarded up, danger signs, not at all acceptable for pilgrim hospitality.

Onward to the next closest church that had a phone number but no one ever answered.  I went, found no one, no phone number listed anywhere, time to find a neighbor, anyone with info about the church - could three pilgrims sleep in the hall. l spoke with some weekend workers on a water tower next to the historical cemetery, got a number of a local manager, called him, no idea of who to call about the church - he called back twice. He suggested another church a half mile away. I decided to walk there and to keep asking everyone I met. A jogger, a teenager out for a walk, a man walking his iinformation... here comes a man out for a walk. I explained, I asked, he knew nothing of that church but offered the church he attends on the other side of town "I can drive you and your friends there and bring you back in the morning". "Maybe, I'll take your number and see how it goes at the church at the next corner."

An hour later, my companions and I were with Jim-the-Methodist going to his church across town. The encounter was somehow predestined. The hospitality was fantastic, the reception in their community on a Sunday night, so open, so welcoming of strangers. They were enjoying youth night - jam session in the basement, a movie, nachos for dinner...20 middle and high schoolers with a handful of parent's:  pilgrims? what's a pilgrim? We three pilgrims sat at different tables telling tales of pilgrimland. An encounter that could not have been scheduled in advance. Angels nudged us together. Everyone benefited from the experience.

I credit my co-pilgrims for their trust. Someone once commented that what I do is like the childhood game - "do you trust me? fall back into my arms and I'll catch you" I do this every day as a pilgrim - fall back into the arms of humanity trusting that humanity will catch me, and they always do. This time, my pilgrim pals released the need to have a plan and locking elbows with me fell back together. Pilgrimland rocks. The Community United Methodist Church was our collective angel last night. Wonderful.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Halfway Day

Time flies when you're getting rained on.  As we finished the first stage of our journey - the farm-road section - the sunny breezy spring weather gave over to exceptionally heavy rain.  Pilgrim life...we walk in the rain.  We listen to reason when it comes to lightning blasting in an adjacent field. Farmers have been taking care of us.  We discovered in this fieldtest of ours that a key bridge is designed to let a river pass over it in heavy rain and the detour involves a long stretch on a narrow highway.  Listen to the locals. Wet weather adds 2 miles to our route.

After getting into Clinton on 81 miles of gravel farm roads, we stepped onto the Katy Trail, a perfectly surfaced bicycling and walking path, high and dry and rather direct.  It is a superb way to go, surprisingly easier on mind and foot, since no thinking is necessary beyond direction...keep heading east.

So quickly, it seems to me (but maybe not my companions who enjoy many more hours walking every day than I) we've just finished the second stage adding 77 miles to the first. This stage along the Katy Trail wends through the countryside and its old farmsteads and small towns, in some cases ghost towns.  The trail heads have very nice information panels and annotated old photos revealing the historical points cherished by the residents. Park benches add convenience for foot pilgrims.

There has been no hardship in finding accommodation within our design bracket of every 10 to 15 miles, averaging 13 miles - a half marathon - with a maximum of 16.  Seven nights we were hosted by the local Catholic church, although four of those nights we were accommodated in the homes of parishioners; five nights we were hosted by local Protestant churches; one night we slept in the local community hall, but only because it was easier for a local resident to confirm with other residents than with the church elders of the Protestant church.

We've now reached the Missouri River, the end of our second stage and a few miles short of the halfway point. From here to the destination, the Katy Trail travels right along the riverbank.  Our patron St Rose Philippine took the steamboat on the river back in the day. We'll walk downstream on the trail.

We've walked in high spirits 158 miles in 12 days and have 176 miles to go in the next 13 days.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nice Time Walking in the Rain

Rolling thunder makes a nice soundtrack across the heartland.  The three of us began our pilgrimage from Mound City, Kansas on Monday and now on Saturday have reached Clinton, Missouri, 81 miles east: three days in breezy sunshine and two days in pouring rain.  Angus cattle watch us as we walk along the gravel roads, some horses, too; friendly pet dogs follow us. A graceful owl swooped by one afternoon, all sorts of other birds...even in the rain, it's a pleasant, peaceful walk.

We've been warmly received every night, and being a group of only three pilgrims, we've been invited into homes several nights - that means high comfort for pilgrims.  Third night out, a hamlet was happy to open the community center for us, being easier to facilitate than trying to get permission from the committee of elders who could authorize our using the community church. The liquor store rounds out the offerings of the place. The community center works well for pilgrims.

Another day also ended without a town in range, but an old Presbyterian church sitting in a field served us well. A vintage outhouse in the yard out back gave some authenticity to our tribute to St Rose Philippine. A neighbor provided some drinking and wash water, and added a cooking burner with a pot so we could cook a hot meal for a simple evening.  A few church members came by after our meal, expressing genuine  enthusiasm that their well maintained church with its long-standing member families could serve us so perfectly. Pilgrims are welcome.

We've walked by a parcel of high-grass prairie, seen the world's smallest tombstone, and passed through the 'baby chick capital of the world'. Pilgrimland rocks.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

RE: Starting point in Mound City


Blessings as your journey begins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sr. Glavin, rscj

Starting point in Mound City

Sent from my iPhone, so short.

Introducing St Rose Philippine Duchesne

The next pilgrimage has begun already.  I've met two pilgrims - Roscoe and Jim - in Kansas City, Kansas, USA to commence a pilgrimage dedicated to a teaching nun who came from France in 1818 and opened the first school west of the Mississippi the same year. Next year, 2018, the modern sisters of her Sacred Heart of Jesus congregation are celebrating the bicentennial. The dozens of Sacred Heart Catholic Schools in North America blossomed from her efforts then. It's my hope that our pilgrimage now will also serve as an exploratory expedition to inspire other pilgrims to celebrate the life and legacy of St Rose Philippine during her bicentennial year and beyond.

St Rose Philippine desired to teach Native Americans as a young woman in France. She had a bumpy ride during and after the French Revolution but eventually arrived in St Charles, Missouri in 1818. Starting several schools and accepting many women into the Sacred Heart Society, she finally came to the area of eastern Kansas in 1841 to teach the children of the Potowatomi tribe. The Shrine of St Rose Philippine Duchesne in Mound City is therefore our starting point.

Our pilgrim plan is to walk through farmland for the next week or so to Clinton, Missouri then get on the Katy Trail - a wonderfully accessible rail-to-trail route to her tomb at the shrine, tomb, and original school in St Charles, Missouri. In total, we will take 25 days to walk the 328(ish) miles (~500 kilometers). Most of the path is broad and flat. More than half of the distance is along the left bank of the Missouri River. I'm particularly looking forward to the many vineyards along the path.

We began our effort with a encouraging pilgrim blessing by Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City, KS in his chapel this morning and were driven to this starting point 70 miles south of the city. The shrine in Mound City can comfortably host pilgrims. Already, the effort to just get to the starting line has been filled with the joys that come when people help people... warm and friendly support that pilgrims need. Thanks to all who have helped us so far.

Because the school children of the Sacred Heart School in St Charles will be following us, everybody who who wants to follow us benefit with more frequent updates - promise!  To get more details about St Rose Philippine and bicentennial activities, visit without hesitation

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Made it!

I arrived easily into Nagasaki City yesterday on a bright spring afternoon.  Bustling with tourists, a cruise ship in the harbor, everybody's excited about the blossoming cherry trees.  (I'm trying to see it, but - big whoop, a few thousand cherry trees... yawn.)  A bit sunburned now and in short sleeves again after the long winter's walk, I'm happy to have completed the pilgrimage.  An interesting pilgrimage, though nothing particularly dangerous - no major earthquakes or tsunamis, a couple of snowstorms, but no blizzards... no men with guns, forgiving terrain - the worst of the worse was a small spider bit that left puffiness - not even proper swelling, and then forgotten the next day... so, not boring, but a very tame pilgrimage.

Statistically: 166 days; 161 walking days.  139 nights hosted by some sort of Catholic community (parishes, monasteries, convents, missions, families of parishes) which is remarkable in a country with less than one half of one percent of the population being Catholic.  Eight nights hosted by Buddhist temples - all very impressed that I'm actually walking and actually mendicant.  In total, 5,607 kilometers (3,484 miles) for a pilgrim-life total (10 years) of 51,125 kilometers (31,768 miles).  As a bonus pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, I visited 22 of the 52 historic churches on the Goto Islands, which would be a lovely one to complete in a leisurely week or two on foot or easy week on bicycle any time of year.

While Japanese cuisine is not my favorite - a devotee to the sud-France palette of flavors - I failed to drop the standard annual bulk I work hard to gain in late summer.  So, I've finished this long winter's walk a bit ragged and tattered, but far from emaciated.  I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it reflects the society I keep, I suppose.  Japan is a land of abundance.  I sat on many a floor eating raw fish with little sticks - 'just like our ancestors' and truly enjoyed the company of delightful and gracious strangers.

Computers have been difficult to find, and access to emails particularly an obstacle on this pilgrimage - I did try to update the blog regularly, it just didn't work.  I'll do better (I hope) on next winter's pilgrimage.  Next winter: dedicated to St Martin of Tours (for non-Catholics; beefy dude on a horse with a red cape and short kilt who did his thing in 4th century Europe).  As he had been a soldier along the Roman frontier, I plan to walk the length of the Danube River in Romania to its source in Germany, then continue to where he left his mark in cities of France: final destination - his tomb in Tours, for Easter.  Could be a bit of April in Paris next year.

Meanwhile, I continue to help other pilgrims in the 'off season' beginning next week with a 500 kilometer trek along the Missouri River in the central part of the US in dedication to St Rose Philippine Duchesne, a feisty educator who opened the first school west of the Mississippi River nearly 200 years ago.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for your interest.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Monkeys in the shadows

A few heavy snowstorms pushed me down the west coast into balmy sea breezes in a few hundred kilometers - out of winter and full into spring.  I spent some days in sparsely populated mountains and then along a beautiful rugged seaside between Akita and Niigata.  Beautiful as I see it, but the long distances between even small villages suggest it's something of a national secret.  The low density of people pushes me to find shelter every night beyond the world of Catholic churches...Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, and gracious families have opened their doors to me, and stamped my pilgrim credential, of course.  I move south, gaining light on both ends of the day, toward more population, more options for where to stay and what routes to take. Crocuses are erupting and plum blossoms are unfurling and birds are chirping everywhere. Every day's a new day in pilgrimland.

One exciting morning, leaving a family home with four generations and an impressive display of traditional dolls (one of the photos posted earlier), I announced that I felt certain I would finally see some of the elusive monkeys that day. After a long and solitary walk on the beach and among the cliffs, I reached a fishing village.  In a corner, tucked against a  mountain, I found an old Buddhist temple with a young priest - Zen, I was informed but couldn't detect on my own.  In the chill of the reception room, sipping the bitter tea and nibbling sweet bean-filled little cakes, the priest pointed out the thin glass of the sliding doors to the well-groomed garden...a family of monkeys parading along the edge of the garden for some extended minutes before disappearing into the mountain rhododendrons.  I was satistisfied indeed - monkeys! Finally.

The next morning, I started out early with the hope of reaching a town of size before dark. In the quiet just after dawn, alone on the serpentine seaside road, I heard some strange noise on the steep mountainside. I stopped, the noise stopped; I continued, the noise resumed. A game was afoot. They were well camouflaged, but I saw them eventually, scattered on the hillside walking with me and looking my way - at least five or six monkeys, and when I stopped walking, each stopped as well and turned its back to me, nonchalantly mimicking a tree stump. Companionably, we walked for a few kilometers together until the topography changed and I crossed over a bridge as they went up a side valley.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Greeting from Sanze
Greeting from Sanze

Monday, February 13, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Quick Update...

All thumbs and in Japanese - that's what I face when people offer me their hand-held devices to check my email.  I have a few moments at a laptop now to update before speaking this evening at an English language tutorial for junior high school students.

I'm having a wintery great time.  Things got a little hectic when I reached Sapporo - having a wonderful stay with some Franciscan sisters in the city - but had to fly out of the country in a snowstorm to Seoul, South Korea, and back again to renew my visa.  I went out, had a great time and great food with fantastic people in Seoul, and came back with permission to stay another 90 days.  Phew, that pesky administrative burden is done, and I'm back in the pilgrim rhythm.

Snowstorms have been frequent but short-lived, and the temperatures have been hovering just below freezing - nothing like the -40 degrees of the last few winters.  I've been hoofing it as much on snowshoes as on crampons, staying mostly on small roads in valleys rather than cross-country.  Towns have been where I need them, more or less, though pilgrim accommodations have been creative.  A highlight I could expand on when time avails was in the town of Nakatonbetsu... sort of in the middle of nowhere, one could say... out of the snow, into the town offices... could someone help me please... I'm a pilgrim and need a place to stay tonight... any thoughts?  People gathered, tea offered... heads put together, a few phone calls made... creative solution - the little town's little public bath and wee restaurant.  I went into the veritable kitchen of the community.  Half the town came that evening to have a hot bath, meet the stranger, have some food and conversation.  What a gem I stumbled on...the beauty of the town is that most of the people I met were not born and raised there, but moved there - from Tokyo, Kagoshima, Osaka, other places from the south - because they wanted the clean country life.  Wanting to be in a place gives so much vitality.  So if anyone is ever in need of a hot bath or good meal or general fun time in the north of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, check out  The low table pushed aside, a futon brought out, a bed for a traveler is there.

Having rung the bell at Wakkanai - the northern-most church in the northern-most town in Japan - I'm now heading south along the Sea of Japan.  I can't exactly see Russia, but it's there to the west.  Every day south is a bit warmer, a bit longer.  I try to convince people to send photos when I can... I'll update again when I find a computer again.  Cheers!