Franciscans find holy ground every step of pilgrimage

WASHINGTON – Their pilgrimage destination was Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery in Washington – popularly known to Catholics as the Little Holy Land – but along the way six Franciscan friars from Chicago found that every step they took from southern Virginia to Washington was holy ground.

“On our way to the Holy Land, we began to discover that the holy land was always under our feet,” said Franciscan Fr. Mark Soehner, 51, one of two older mentors in the group that walked 300 miles from Roanoke, Va., to Washington, with no money, food or water and no advance provisions for shelter along the way.

Soehner said the day started with what they thought were good directions to climb the mountain, but at an important juncture they faced a private road with severe warnings against trespassing, and they had to take what turned out to be a three-and-a-half-hour detour to get up the mountain.

Goodin said it was a Mennonite who directed them to the path up the mountain after they were stymied by the no trespassing signs. Then it was a Catholic woman from Kansas named Mary who offered them water and granola bars at dusk at a wayside stop on the mountain and who cajoled a Jewish man named George to take them down the mountain in his Prius to Waynesboro.

In Waynesboro, Goodin said, George helped them find the town’s only Catholic church, but it was empty and locked. One of the group hailed a passing woman to see if she knew where the pastor lived. The woman, a Hindu, didn’t know, but she offered to put them up for the night in her home.

Goodin said that when they arrived at her home, she went in and told her husband, also Hindu, “Honey, I’m bringing home five monks.” The husband laid out several mats and told them he hoped they wouldn’t mind sleeping at the feet of the Buddha statue.

Lopez said the generosity “time and time again” of people the friars met along their pilgrimage “challenges me from this point on to trust in the Lord … to respond just as the people responded to us, to take the time to slow down and listen to their stories.”

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