By: Agnes Berki, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Natural and Physical Sciences
Dr. Berki writes the following to her friend Rose Marie, who is disabled and not able to make the trek from Paris to Chartes.
The second day I was especially grateful for two events. We again walked over 20 miles. It was harder on the second day to walk that many miles since I was tired from the day before. Eight hours’ sleep in a tent in a sleeping bag does not allow much recovery for the body. But the weather was beautiful during the whole time. Members of my chapter members and their families prayed much for good weather. I heard about years with pouring rains. They say it brings more graces to walk in the rain, since it is very hard to walk in the mud for twenty miles and then sleep in a wet tent and wet sleeping bag! Well, I was grateful for the good weather. But what I was especially grateful for was that we walked this day with the Australian chapter. I have to back up a bit. Our American group was put together with a French chapter from Versailles on the first day. The Versailles chapter was our “family”: 40 of us altogether. We prayed and sang much in French. Well, it was a French chapter; it was a French pilgrimage. By the end of the day, we who were not French were kind of “Frenched out” especially those of us who did not speak French. How happy we were when we found out that we could walk with the Australians. We could sing and pray in English and understand the meditations! When we joined them, they asked, “Do you want us to pray in French?” Oh no, please no; English or Latin preferably? So it was. We prayed and sang in English intermingled with some Latin. And I loved their accents. I know that I have an accent, so it is probably amusing for you to hear that I appreciated theirs. Well, I did.
The Australian Chapter led by Father Bede Rowe.
Pictures from: http://frbederowe.blogspot.com/2012/06/scouts-who-lived.html
We were very much blessed, though, for with the Australian chapter walked two groups of religious orders of men. One was a traditional order of Redemptorist priests, the Transalpine Redemptorists (2). They led the meditations for us. I am sorry I did not tell you what meditation is. First, the schedule of the three days included meditations. Each day we listened to one or more talks on a topic while we walked and then silently reflected on it. This is called meditation. Each chapter performed meditation on its own. The pilgrimage booklet contains some meditation texts, but additional meditations can be used as well. This year the theme of the pilgrimage was the family: “Family, Cradle of Christendom” (1).The topics of the mediations were the importance of the family for our salvation, what the word “family” means according to the Scriptures, and the blessed family as the example of a holy family life. The Redemptorist Fathers were true to their reputation as preachers. We liked their well-prepared meditations. The other order was a Franciscan order of men. I thought that the dedication of all those men, their sacrifice, their habits, and their joy were a wonderful witness to the love of God for the young people in my group. I was grateful and felt privileged that I met these remarkable men (3).
On this day we walked much out in the countryside. The French countryside is beautiful: rolling hills, flowery meadows, and wheat fields. I saw it many times, but every time I see the deep green fields I am deeply moved by the sight. Imagine graceful wheat heads, already strong and full of life, waving in the wind. There is a peaceful beauty about them. That is where life begins, with bread: life here on earth and the life after; how simple and how beautiful. Above the waving wheat heads there are the waving banners of the pilgrims on the trail for miles ahead and miles behind. There are no words to describe the feelings that sight stirs up within. Imagine that you are tired, every step hurts, the thoughts that keep you going are “one more step,” “one step at a time,” “keep it up,” “keep breathing,” “longer steps” … and you look up and see people in front of you for miles and behind you for miles who suffer the same way or even more than you do. They all walk, keep walking, keep singing, keep praying or talking, but not giving up. That sight lifts you up. It makes the burden of pain roll down from your shoulders, and you do not feel the suffering as intensely as before. That sight gives you “wings.” I wish you could feel what I felt. I wish I could describe the feelings that I had walking those fields with the pilgrims. In those feelings are admiration for what they all do, for humility, sweetness, and a gentle acceptance of being a part of God’s work along with each and every one of them. I love the French countryside and I always will.
The French countryside with pilgrims in 2010.
The French countryside with pilgrims in 2012.
The French countryside with pilgrims again in 2012.
I was the last on that day to reach the camp. We caught a glimpse of the steeples of the Charter Cathedral toward the end of the second day. It was in the distance 20 to 25 miles away. We followed an old tradition, which is to kneel down and pray at that spot. It felt right to do so. We gave thanks to God for His help in bringing us this far and asked Him to strengthen us for the rest of our journey. Toward the evening, I slowed down and separated from my chapter partly because I was tired and partly because I saw a boy who was alone and not well. I thought that he was dehydrated, so I stopped and asked him. Fortunately, he spoke English and told me that he had a heart problem. He had cold sweats and was out of breath. I suggested that he get on the shuttle, which would take him to the camp, but he did not want to do that. He insisted on walking every step of the pilgrimage for his relative who was ill. So I offered to walk with him. There we were, walking slowly, stopping after every 20 yards. Other pilgrims’ chapters passed us and cheered us on: “The camp is very close. Just keep at it!” My pastor got worried about me, since my brigade had reached the camp a long time ago without me. Not knowing what happened, he asked the security officers. One of them with a motorcycle took Father with him on his bike to find me. They found us walking. We explained what happened. My little friend had no choice at that point; he had to go with the security officer on his bike. I felt sorry for him, for he could not walk the very last mile, but I was glad he was safe. His parents were in the camp as helpers. Then my pastor and I walked to the camp. I arrived in the camp that night as the very last pilgrim of over 5,000. Being last is not something to boast about, yet I was grateful that I was the last one. When I walked into the camp, the other pilgrims cheered and clapped for me as if I was the first at an event in the Olympics. They did not know why I was the last. It was moving. I thought that it is like reaching heaven. It does not matter when we get there. Even if we are the least of God’s children, the joy of all the saints, our loved ones, our Blessed Mother, and God will be indescribable.
Notre Dame of Chartres Cathedral from a distance.