Wednesday, 25 May 2011

From Russia with Lovejoy

I suppose alarm bells might have started ringing when i started saying things like "Pilgrimage is not an exact science". Around lunch-time last Tuesday, walking on from Elista, a strip of black cloud appeared overhead, and there were rumbles of thunder in the distance. The first drops of rain meant i could put on the excellent German-made poncho which i'd bought in Lvov, tipped off about the shop by an Englishman, David, who works with the children in Bortnyky. Then however the rain became heavier, the thunder and lightning drew closer and closer. I was praying to all the saints i could think of, and began an 'emergency novena' of 'Memorare's (see below), as recommended, i believe, by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. When it started to hail i knew that i was going to be right in the eye of the storm, and noticed a drainage tunnel under the road. Diving for cover as if i was literally 'under fire' (that's how it felt), i threw my things towards a dry patch of 'mud' inside the tunnel and crawled through a big puddle to the same place, sitting there for 40 minutes or so while the rain lashed down and there were barely any intervals between flashes of lightning and immense crashes of thunder.
Newly-weds inside the walls of the Kremlin, Astrakhan

After it cleared some of my stuff was a bit wet, and i saw the first tick of my walk - they also can kill, by transmitting lethal infections. When a lorry pulled over shortly afterwards i was in no mood to refuse a lift. Kalmykia people, the driver told me, are none other than the descendants of Genghis Khan and the Mongols, put in this part of southern Russia by Peter the Great. To cut a long story short, the Steppe here is 'semi-desert', and a few days later, after some walking but more lifts, sooner than expected i was in Astrakhan, at the mouth of the mighty Volga river on the Caspian Sea. There is a remarkable 18th century Catholic Church there, as well as an impressive Kremlin, with a Chapel housing relics of St. Cyril, the great Apostle to the Slavs.
The Kremlin, Kazan, with Mosque as well as Cathedral

Then i decided to take a train to Kazan, with an even more famous Kremlin that contains a beautiful Mosque; breathtaking 'frescoes' and Iconostases in its Churches and Cathedrals, and home to a very important 'miracle-working' Icon, the Mother of God of Kazan. In soviet times it was in Fatima, Portugal, then it decorated the wall of Blessed John Paul II's study in the Vatican. He long wished to return it to Russia in person, but in the summer of 2004 it was freely given. I actually believe that the brutal siege of the school at Beslan, which happened a few days afterwards, was an expression of satan's rage at this event.

Among other prayers i said a 'Memorare' for Christian Unity before the Icon, which was being venerated in turn by wonderfully reverent schoolchildren;

Our Lady of Kazan
Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection,
implored Thy help or sought Thine intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
I fly unto Thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother;
to Thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in Thy mercy, hear and answer me.

Then in the evening i couldn't resist a visit to the cinema to see the new, 'vaguely familiar from last time' Pirates of the Caribbean flick, featuring Ian McShane, whose inimitable curls graced our television screens in the mid to late 1980s as the lovable rogue antiques dealer, Lovejoy. He plays none other than Edward Teach himself (the very same) - 'Black Beard'.

My short visa (20 days) has meant it was impossible to do this part of the journey entirely on foot, and this morning i've arrived by train in the big city (sort of in the Urals?) of Chelyabinsk. On Saturday, with God's help, i hope to reach Kazakhstan.

Here is Our Lady's message from 25th of May;

"Dear children! My prayer today is for all of you who seek the grace of conversion. You knock on the door of my heart, but without hope and prayer, in sin, and without the Sacrament of Reconciliation with God. Leave sin and decide, little children, for holiness. Only in this way can I help you, hear your prayers and seek intercession before the Most High. Thank you for having responded to my call."

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