Pilgrim updates: Czech Republic

Mendicant pilgrim Ann Sieben is leading four men across Europe on foot for World Youth Day. Every week, we are updating you on their progress via their pictures and journal entries, which they are sending us throughout their journey. You can read the introductory post here

13 July

Náměšť nad Oslavou, Czech Republic

The first night in the Czech Republic, no priest could be found. He lives in a different town, and was unavailable by phone. We appealed to the secular community of a few hundred inhabitants, were directed to the mayor, and after presenting a Czech translation of the archbishop of Denver’s letter of introduction and offered the use of the community hall. The mayor presented each of us a golden medallion of the town’s seal, a lapel pin with the coat-of-arms and some postcards of the prominent sights.

We put our collective languages out on the table—English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, a bit of Italian, a bit of Polish…we’re met with their languages and hope to find some commonality. It’s the best we have to offer in the Czech Republic. Sometimes we devolve to signs and laughter. It’s a myth that English, the language of the world, is spoken everywhere we get by.

It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage week for us. We passed through the fairytale town of Český Krumlov and spent the night in a hidden gem. Franciscan sisters care for a historic Marian shrine in Kasov where Philadelphia’s St. John Newman visited on pilgrimage. We slept in the converted stables.

We then followed up with stays in the UNESCO towns of Telč and Třebíč—world heritage under our feet—a 12th century Benedictine monastery.

We stumbled into a weekend blueberry festival—of all things—and couldn’t find the priest. Helpful young town greeters got us to the sacristan, who cheerfully opened his doors—his generations old complex with horses, chickens, and garden orchards—for a comfortable night’s stay. His one year long ago spent working in Cuba gave him the foundation in Spanish to have a language common to all of us. His service to the Church represents the latest in a long, uninterrupted line of the men of his family serving as sacristans in the same parish.

The atmosphere of the Czech Republic is noticeably different; there’s a different vibe than in Italy or Austria. People seem very reserved—not greeting each other in the street, but open up warmly when approached.

We are 1,641 kilometers from Rome (wow!) on our 54th day of walking. Only 12 days to Krakow, only one week to Poland’s border.

COMING UP: Pilgrim Updates: Germany and Austria

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Mendicant pilgrim Ann Sieben is leading four men across Europe on foot for World Youth Day. Every week, we are updating you on their progress via their pictures and journal entries, which they are sending us throughout their journey. You can read the introductory post here

29 June

Bavaria, Germany

Forty days and 40 nights–time seems like a blur. We’re descended the northern slope of the Dolomites into the Austrian Alps. Rugged, accessible, touristic and tidy–every view is a living postcard.

[The following two pages were too blurred to read, and resumes at the top of the third page in the journal].

We’re hopeful that the situation is temporary.

Our accommodations this week consisted of stay in three monasteries–Cistercian, [something], and Franciscan–three parish halls and one holiday home, owned by a chipper parish secretary who rightly though we’d be more comfortable there than on the floor of the parish hall.

Every day is a new day in pilgrim land.  We’re always content and genuinely grateful with our accommodations.

People truly go out of their way to help. A quirky Polish priest joined us in our search in Innsbruck–a city with at least a dozen religious communities–marching us all around town before just taking the men back to his monastery and calling a cloister-nun friend for a gender-separated night.

Now 11 days in Germany-speaking lands, the language issue is experienced differently among our group. For the two South Americans, the leap to Italian was hardly a hiccup; the rest of us are all conversant in Spanish and could similarly communicate in Italian. German is different–non-intuitive. One among us is fluent and happy; the others feel the absence of the more personal encounters that come with words. By the end of the next week, another language yet. For now, 1,214 km from Rome. We’re still moving forward.

The The pilgrims are sending us pictures as they walk from Rome to Krakow. Photo provided.

The The pilgrims are sending us pictures as they walk from Rome to Krakow. Photo provided.

6 July

Schlagl Austria

We’re in any one place for at most a matter of hours. Yet timing is everything.

We passes through Salzburg, stayed at an eighteenth century Benedictine monastery, and celebrated the 21st birthday of our hose monk; an elegant juxtaposition of old and new.

We also stayed at the spa-town of bad Reichenhall, Germany, where the ecumenical council directed us to the house of the Lutheran Church being prepared to receive [cut off].

Our pilgrimage planning seems random, but there sometimes seems to already be a plan. We truly live in the moment. Mostly walking alone during the day, we each have our own experiences–which allows for individual spontaneity–we’ve each separately met people, been invited into their homes and their lives for just short periods of time–we connect, we share, we experience pilgrim magic.

We meet people, they offer hospitality–a sandwich, water, a glass of beer, but we give something back–somehow we’re supposed to meet.

We let the Holy Spirit work through us–for example, we’ll accept a cup of coffee when we’re otherwise a bit preoccupied with getting ahead some kilometers–we see the benefit of allowing people to ‘help’ us when we can see that they need to help us more than we need to receive what they offer.

We’ve become very accustomed to our pilgrim routine–we walk, we argue, we wash our clothes and ourselves, we eat, we sleep, we get up and pray. Repeat. We’re all noticeably thinner, tanner, in better shape. We have a more disciplined way of life.

We enjoy the rolling landscape, the dairy cows, the vegetable gardens; the alps are far behind us now, we’re heading towards the plains.

Tomorrow, we’ll say auf wiedersehen to Austria and German-speakers and cross into the Czech Republic. We are 1,413 km from Rome. We’re full of hope as we draw closer to Krakow–to World youth Day. Happy (belated) 4th of July.