By Barb Arland-Fye
It’s just a friendly competition, right? My parish, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire, is one of eight in the Davenport Diocese participating in a summer walking and healthy eating challenge program that kicked off May 28. Count me in!
Two days later, a Year of Mercy Pilgrimage from St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City to St. Mary Catholic Church in Nichols — 22 miles — provided the opportunity to rack up an extraordinary number of steps. After posting my total steps for the first week on a chart in my parish hall, I heard from a few parishioners. One of them jokingly offered me the use of his “Fitbit” activity tracker so I could boost his accumulation of steps! My husband Steve told another curious parishioner about the pilgrimage I completed. Those steps were hard-earned!
Some pilgrims on the Iowa City to Nichols pilgrimage belong to one of the parishes participating in the walking program and could have done the same thing I did. Those parishes are Sacred Heart Cathedral, Holy Family and Our Lady of Victory in Davenport; Our Lady of Lourdes and St. John Vianney in Bettendorf; St. Ann in Long Grove and St. Mary in Fairfield.
Walking 22 miles in one day hadn’t been on my to-do list but I wanted to participate in the pilgrimage. Father Jeff Belger, the lead organizer, convinced me to start the journey and take a ride on a “SAG” wagon when needed. Oh, how I love a challenge! The only question: could I tolerate a daylong walk with hardware in my right leg – a gift resulting from a spiral break of the tibia and fibula two years ago? I bicycle long distances and swim, but walking is for rest and relaxation.
This wasn’t a competitive walk or a stroll through the park. We walked on back roads, much of it gravel, to avoid highway traffic. Fr. Jeff encouraged us to think about the emotion Mary must have felt as she contemplated the extraordinary news of her motherhood while traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth. “This is a personal journey, in community,” he told us on May 30, the eve of the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I struggled to imagine what Mary experienced some 2,000 years ago in a country I’ve never visited, let alone contemplate her spiritual ponderings. However, the pilgrims I journeyed with and the people who provided hospitality along the way enriched my faith experience. We reflected on our lives and our church. I learned from Heidi Vittetoe of St. James Parish in Washington about a faith enrichment group she’s been involved in for years. I’d like to experience one of her group’s Monday night gatherings.
Lindsay Vittetoe of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf was testing the waters for doing a pilgrimage with her friend Kelly Bush on the Camino de Santiago, a journey across Spain and Europe. Lindsay has participated in triathlons and clearly is up to the challenge. But what touched me deeply in walking with her were the stories she shared from her work with cancer patients. Faith and compassion figure prominently in that work.
Another pilgrim on the Iowa City to Nichols journey, John Conway of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman, made a 1,100-mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in 2013. Then 67, he walked an average of 15 to 16 miles a day, 70 days in a row! I am in awe of his perseverance, both then and now.
The steps I took to complete the Iowa City to Nichols pilgrimage meant far more than boosting my numbers in the walking challenge program.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)