Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Lvov at first sight!

   Thanks be to God, on Sunday afternoon i reached this very beautiful city by bus! Cheating again! The thing was, i crossed over into Ukraine from Poland and, as it was a Sunday, was keen at least to visit a Church. The police in the little frontier town of Krakovets however were clearly not enamoured of people `hanging around`, and i was told gruffly (though without any menace) that i must be gone within half an hour - after being escorted to first one, then a second Church. I then gave the fare for the bus to one of the guys, who paid it to the driver, specifying Lvov, about 65km away - and i didn`t offer any resistance! You might say i could have got out long before Lvov, but i reasoned that i might have been stopped by police again, who could conceivably have been in contact with the Krakovets folks.
St George's Cathedral, Lviv/Lvov
    So i`m here, and wonderfully blessed to be able to stay in a house run by the missionary order `Miles Jesu` (Soldiers of Jesus). An initial Russian visa, hopefully, is being arranged, and i`ve been able to see this beautiful city as if for the first time - a hefty layer of grime has been removed since i was last here, in January 2008. It deserves to take its place in the first rank of marvellous metropolises which were hidden behind the Iron Curtain for all those years; with Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Dresden, Tallinn, Vilnius and others. Another `revelation` to me on this trip was Erfurt, in the former East Germany. On the last walk i was very impressed by Verona. Shakespeare wasn`t joking when he called it `fair` - blimey! It looks a million Euros. Well, i defy anyone who`s actually been there to smirk at the idea that `Romeo and Juliet` could almost equally have been set in Erfurt, without sensibly losing its romantic credentials.
   Hope to be here in Ukraine for quite some time. Since this pilgrimage, like the last one, is dedicated `Totus Tuus`, all for Mary, i`d like to finish with the most recent of her messages from Medjugorje, from 25th of March (the Annunciation), which a friend kindly sent to me;

“Dear children! In a special way today I desire to call you to conversion. As of today, may new life begin in your heart. Children, I desire to see your ‘yes’, and may your life be a joyful living of God’s will at every moment of your life. In a special way today, I bless you with my motherly blessing of peace, love and unity in my heart and in the heart of my Son Jesus. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Soon-to-be-Blessed Pope John Paul II - please pray for us!

Christ sculpture, Kolbuszowa
   I must thank David Hothersall, who i met in Jericho on the penultimate day of the last pilgrimage, and his people at Kinlan Communications (hope i've got that right!), very much for going to the trouble of setting up this blog - such things are not exactly my forte. Progress in Poland has been a little bit patchy, but thankfully today i'm in Kolbuszowa, edging towards the Ukrainian frontier. There have been lots of nice people here; and a score of 'two' on the free-hotel-room-o-meter so far. Among other things i've also been struck by the presence of very tall Crosses in the forecourts of most of the Churches. There was a similar one outside Westminster Cathedral to mark the Millenium, but after a year or so it was removed to obscurity, somewhere in Yorkshire i think. I can't help thinking there's an ambivalence towards the Cross among Christians in Britain, which might partly account for the emptying pews...
    On May 1st this year as many as 2 million people (many of them Poles, of course) are expected to be in Rome for the Beatification of Pope John Paul II. Here i could make a little confession; it is not quite clear how i'm going to get a suitable Russian visa for this walk, but i have reason to believe that JPII can help. The hospitality of German people didn't come as such a great surprise to me* because of my experience of the World Youth Day in Cologne in August 2005. At an event there a young Russian lady gave an account of arranging the paperwork for her group of Russian pilgrims. When all seemed lost, and the correct visas looked like they'd never be forthcoming, she had an inspiration to visit a Church and pray for the intercession of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II - and felt absolutely confident that this would have the desired effect. Sure enough, when she went back to the relevant authorities the visas were ready for collection!

"If we do our best, God will do the rest"**. Another sort of 'motto' last time was;

"Some days one makes great strides, while others are more pedestrian, but i suppose you find that in any walk of life. Still, hope it's a step in the right direction."

Yesterday, leaving Mielec, i was NOT walking in the right direction, but thanks be to God, i was able to take a "Benediktynska Ulitsa" (street) which led me back onto the right track. One other thing...on Sunday i enjoyed some yoghurt coated apricots which my Mum sent out specially for me and couldn't help wondering - why ever do people bother to take the yoghurt off in the first place?!

*in February in Germany i only had to pay for 4 or 5 nights' accommodation - local people gave me places to stay and even a hotel and youth hostel let me stay for free, besides quite a few nights in the open of course.
**this was a favourite saying of a Scottish Benedictine Prioress, Mother Mary Garson

Friday, 18 March 2011

An "e", not an "a"!

   No need to go into  details, but  confusion between these letters has been the reason why it took so long for this blog to get off the ground! -Yet "on the ground" is where i've been for nearly 2 months, and, thanks be to God, this afternoon i've reached a village called Naglowice, in the Swietokrzyskie region of Poland - i belive this means "Holy Cross". A few days ago it was marvelous to reach Czestochowa, the famous Shrine to Our Lady which is the heart of Poland's extraordinary Catholic faith.
Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland
   On Wednesday 26th January, just before crossing the river Stour which marks the frontier between Suffolk and Essex, i noticed a scallop shell lodged in the foliage of a bush. I nearly didn't pick it up(!), but now i'm very glad to have it, the traditional symbol of pilgrimage, long associated with the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela. I did one of these walks last year, to Jerusalem, also with the aim of raising money for Mary's Meals, whose focus on providing a single nourishing meal each day at school enables some of the very poorest chidren in the world to get an education; their only long-term hope for escape from poverty. A difference between this pilgrimage and the last one, besides the fact that i've brought a camera this time (tho' only 'film' pictures - not sure how to post them on here), is that the toggles on my great 1975 vintage army sleeping bag which someone gave me actually work, which they never seemed to before!  Incidentally i remain intrigued by the possibility that  this sleeping bag has some of the oldest  still-in-active-use  Velcro  anywhere in Europe, if not the world!  I won't make this a very long post - some words about the phenomenal kindness and friendliness of so many people in Germany can wait for another time - but suffice to say; Bristol Rovers' win against Tranmere shows there's still some fight in 'em! It's a case of "All hands on decks" for the Pirates if we are to avoid the drop! No team is too good to go down!