“What’s Life Worth, if Not to Be Given?”
Andrea and his friends propose a pilgrimage for the beginning of the school year
Two months ago I accidentally found on our bookshelf the booklet of my pilgrimage to Czestochowa in 2008 (a pilgrimage organized by CL every summer for students at times of big decisions in their life, when finishing school and discerning the next step in their life).
In the booklet, I found the notes I took and read the very first words that Fr. Barbero said as an introduction: “What’s life worth, if not to be given?” I remain dazzled by these words (from The Tidings Brought to Mary) that I had known a long time ago. I kept reading: “We are here to beg to learn that the most important thing we can do is to give ourselves. The law of life is to give yourself. We are here to express our need. We are need. God is the great friend of our heart, he is waiting for us there, at the depth of our need.”
Sometimes, words we have heard in the past come back in their full power as if they were still alive. Sometimes, we are called in discreet ways that seem to happen by accident. Combining that with a desire to offer the new school year to Mary, my wife and I decided to propose a pilgrimage to “the Queen of the Painted Churches”, The Nativity of St. Mary in Schulenburg TX, half way between where we live near Austin and Houston, where our friends of the larger CL community live. We invited one family of friends, who in turn decided to propose it more broadly. For a few weeks, I tried to prepare for the pilgrimage with the desire that it be beautiful, all the way down to each detail. I called St. Mary’s church to ask about any paths that could be walked on foot near the church (something unheard of, Google it and you will see that any “pilgrimage” anyone else has done in that area was by bus or car). A few days later I got the call back from the pastor who told me he is new and has no idea where we could walk, and that it may be dangerous. I insisted that we wanted to walk, even just for one hour, and that we will have many kids with us. He suggested I call a nearby Christian association who might have suggestions, but I called and nobody answered.
With my friend Benedetto, we decided to go anyway, so I looked on Google maps and chose a road with little traffic that seemed perfect. During the last few days leading up to the pilgrimage, my expectation increased as we prepared a few songs and invited our kids to write down the intentions they wanted to carry to Mary. On Sunday morning, we wake up at 6 am, get our five little kids in the car in order to arrive at 8:30am at the corner of two unknown country roads in the middle of nowhere. To my great surprise, there are already several friends from Houston waiting there, and within 15 min we are about fifty people. Some of them even brought their family members. I am struck that so many people felt the desire to go on a pilgrimage together, on foot, on an early Sunday morning.
I read the words of Fr. Barbero from my notes, then we sing “Romaria '' because it tells about who we all are: so miserable that we don’t even know how to pray, but that doesn’t matter, because we are here to physically bring our need, questions, and life to Mary. “It doesn’t matter that we will get distracted soon”, I say, “This is the good thing of a pilgrimage: we are here on a journey, bringing ourselves”. Off we go for an hour walking on a road that reveals to be truly beautiful, running between farms and fields with cows staring at us. We walk for some time in silence, each one of us thinking about the intentions we carry to Mary, our own and those of many friends who are not here. We pray the rosary, we sing a few songs. And then the church appears behind some trees, and I remember the joy of gaining a view of Czestochowa after so much walking. Our short pilgrimage ends with a joyful celebration: a Polka Mass and the parish annual picnic. It’s a joy to see and talk to our friends from Houston, and to have experienced again the desire to be on a pilgrimage, the paradigm of life. “What’s life worth, if not to be given?”
Andrea, Austin, TX