Pilgrim Updates: Germany and Austria

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.

COMING UP: To Krakow on foot: The return of the pilgrim

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Ann Sieben, our winter pilgrim, is at it again!

Sieben is walking the 1,100 miles from the Vatican to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, the resting place of St. Faustina, in Poland.


She stopped by to say hi to the Denver Catholic office on her way to get a new pilgrim passport (her old one is full). Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic.

But this time, she’s not going alone.

Sieben is bringing with her four men who are discerning religious life. She will teach them the art of mendicant pilgrimage as they walk through Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Meet the guys:

  • Ricardo, 35, Philadelphia, PA
  • Rafael, 23, Lima, Peru
  • Nick, 22, Madison, WI
  • Andrew, 25, Philadelphia, PA

Their journey will be filled with new experiences. They will stay at monasteries scattered across Europe, and thus experience a variety of spiritual experiences. God willing, their arrival in Poland will coincide with the beginning of World Youth Day and the arrival of Pope Francis.


Sieben’s aptly titled general idea of the pilgrimage route. The group plans on walking about 16 miles a day. Photo provided.

Those discerning will not have phones or money. Sieben, however, has agreed to send Denver Catholic weekly updates on the group’s progress and experience.

First step: They’re going to receive a special pilgrimage blessing in Rome! Stay tuned for updates, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.