WITH THE CROSS ACROSS AMERICA

WOJCIECH DUDKIEWICZ

Hardly anybody can afford half a year off in their life. Therefore only two of them are going. Roman Zięba is going from the western to the eastern coast of the USA, from San Francisco to New York. Wojciech Jakowiec is going to the south, from Canadian Edmonton to Mexico, to the sanctuary of Our Lady from Guadalupe.

They are experienced in overcoming long distances, but now the amount of kilometers is really big. A few months in fever, cold, sometimes with no food or water. Going up and down the road, wastelands and deserts. 10 thousand km, 5 per one person. Preparations took 3 years.

A natural direction

Wojtek was going to go from the south to the north, but his acquaintances advised him not to go across this country. There appeared escalation of violence, murders and kidnappings before the forthcoming election. And it is particularly bad on the route of Wojtek. It is better to put off the pilgrimage for autumn, that is, after the election. – We are not going according to the plan – says Wojtek.

So, maybe instead of beginning a pilgrimage in Guadalupe, it is better to begin it in the north, in Edmonton? Autumn in Mexico will be less hot. Besides there is more time to inform a parish and making a detailed plan. Then the sign of the cross would have a natural direction! – getting blessing from heaven….There is a decision: the pilgrims will make a cross on America from the north and from the west with their feet.

They are praying so. With their words, thoughts and also legs. Each of the pilgrims is carrying an icon: one of them – the icon of Our Lady, another one – the icon of St. Joseph. They set off from Poland with not many funds for the beginning of their journey, hoping for generosity of people on their way. In the United States they bought carts with which they are going to take water: in the Death Valley, on deserts of Nevada it is usually hot, very hot…

Pure pleasure

4 May: already in Los Angeles, later by train to San Jose, Wojtek is flying to Canada, Roman is staying. They said goodbye to each other, making the sign of the cross on the forehead. ‘I am pulling out a handcart from the hospitable parish presbytery onto an asphalt route….The route through California to the border with Nevada. 11 daily stretches of the route, 30 km per day. But I am taking buffer and I want to complete my pilgrimage within two weeks – says Roman on Facebook. – Testing the cart, equipment, solar panels, meeting people and local conditions, that is a warm-up. Mountains in snow of the altitude of the Tatra mountains. They say one must watch out bears in national parks’.

Wojciech says in Canada ironically: ‘I landed in Edmonton. And what do I see? And here! Why not Guatemala, Belize or Faroe Islands? No! It had to be Canada!’. The beginning of the pilgrimage is pure pleasure. There is a lot of strength and temptation to adventures. Later the route gets longer, trekking is getting longer and upper. ‘It is obvious that we are facing the overwhelming surroundings. But we are not alone here. Our plan of encountering the continent on foot raises astonishment in the country where 300 meters to a shop are travelled by car – writes Roman. – We are going to go across deserts, mountains and unending plains. We need to be sensible but not go ahead too quickly. We focus on what is here and now. We have as much as we have under our feet.

Under stars

Sleeping under stars. The mission is splendid but provisions forbid priests to give accommodation to strangers, even on the grass. ‘Too many homeless and problems’. The strict provisions are strictly guarded by the police. Instead I am kindly warned against wild animals – writes Roman.- When it is getting dark, I am washing myself in a fountain so as not to be accused of taking out coins from the bottom which are thrown by tourists…California is beautiful properties and rich people who do not want strangers disturbing their peace. So, this is how you, America, are welcoming us…’.

15 May, Roman: ‘Today I have been pushing up my equipment in the sun for a nearly whole day. Going up Sierra Nevada will take a few days through the National Park Eldorado. The mountains as high as our Tatra mountains with glaciers and snow in May on the passes are a part of the Cordilliers – the mountain ‘backbone’ of Amercas stretching from Alaska in the north to Antarctica in the south. On the other side of the mountains Great Plains begin but first a hot desert Nevada is. Saying rosary prayer, I see sweat drops rolling down the forehead and making black marks on the tips of dusty shoes’.

Little Hours Prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary every day

Wojtek, somewhere in northern United States. ‘I sing Little Hours Prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary every day. Throughout the pilgrimage. I know it by heart. Today I have experienced something incredible. These are just the moments for which it is worth walking. As probably only on the way, in this way I experience it. Today with the words ‘friend of mine’ I went away spiritually! I simply flew away into a different world! It is impossible to describe. one of these events which one must experience. ‘…Friend of mine….’. I imagined the Blessed Virgin as my friend and felt an incredible grace then and incredible honour. I also felt how little I was. Like a little grain. How tiny I was in this universe towards this majesty of the Blessed Mary the Virgin. Mary was a human being like me. But this enormity of the difference between me and her….Till I felt embarrassed that I dared to compare myself to Her. A story came to my mind when in Switzerland I had been walking with pilgrims of Divine Mercy for the first time – I was going from Fatima, Dominik from Moscow and Roman from the Holy Land. And among those mountains, those haughty Alps I also had an incredible feeling. I looked at the enormity of the Divine work and I felt that I was soooo little! Facing the beauty of Lord’s creation. However, today I realized that towards Mary I was incomparably lower than towards those mountains. There is simply no scale towards Mary. Incredible!

‘Rosary to the borders’

Lathrop. A church closed, neither the Holy Mass, nor perspectives for accommodation. A thin Mexican arrived by a pick-up then. ‘He asks me who I was, so I say briefly…Rigoberto is strongly moved. He says that I got to the right place, although there is no Holy Mass today, there is a meeting of the Latino-American community. – You will tell us about the pilgrimage’. They are loading everything onto the cart of the pick-up and Rigoberto takes Roman to the hotel Holiday Inn. He pays for everything. ‘The church here is full of believers from Mexico, Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and other countries of Latin America. Everything which takes place later, makes me speechless literally – says the pilgrim. – I see a big picture of Merciful Jesus in the altar, next to it there is Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have not experienced such a prayer in my life: dance, singing and bursts of joy with the accompaniment of guitars ‘mariachi’. Everyone is dancing and singing. Later they are asking me to speak via a microphone. I tell my story about the pilgrimage aCrossAmerica, about a community of pilgrims, about Polish and American ‘Rosary to the borders’. Some people read about our pilgrimage on the portal of the Mexican News Agency. We feel hot the Holy Spirit acts’.

Sleeping by the river

13 May, Wojtek: ‘A road. Sleeping….they are various. After the whole night of drizzling my tent was completely wet. Also during a day it was drizzling. A wet tent, wet ground everywhere. So, where if not to the church for help? Grzegorz and Sister Natalia from Edmonton were fighting for me on the phone. I brought a bit of trouble but I got help from brothers the Canadians! A classical ‘American’ model. I dried my tent. In the morning I set off after shaving and resting.

A new day begins and coffee on the fire is being brewed. Roman: ‘Sleeping by the river. A deer arrived, looked at us and went away. Even the deer is looking at me as if I was a stranger from another planet. I am going higher and higher. National Parks. A rosary prayer’.

The pilgrimage was called ‘aCrossAmerica’. – We want to pray so that the United States, the leader of the world economy and the country which dictates the world new social, political and cultural trends, which got converted again, would receive Christ and the light for the new times. We believe that the Americans will pray together with us. Especially that we do not divide people we meet according to their religious or ethnical backgrounds. Everybody who opens the door for us, who gives us bread, is our brother – said Roman just before his journey.

Her name is Mercy

Roman entered this town when it was getting dark. He met an old nomad on a bike loaded with bags. He is riding from Canada and it is seen that he has been riding for a long time. The pilgrim is using the occasion and is asking him how to go on foot across Nevada. Nomad answers professionally: - I was on Mojave Desert. On the desert you are going to get frozen at night and boiling hot in the heat of the midday. A lot of days. This is a large desert. Get a bike. Finally the church of St. Bernard. ‘I am entering directly for adoration. I am falling half asleep, half in prayer. I did not see that I had a dirty face – says Roman. – A woman comes up, we talks, she is emotionally moved, gives me her shopping and her full purse – about 100 USD. So, I am spending the night in a hotel. The first bath after 4 days. Washing clothes, regeneration. The woman’s name was Mercy’.

Roman: ‘I have just bought a second-hand bike in a good state from the Indians, for 70 USD, that is, very cheaply. Anyway I needed a bike in order to go across the desert of Nevada. So many people advised me to buy a bike. They attached a cart to it. They also gave me spare inner tubes and tools.

A solitary road

1 June. The third flag was added to the flags on the mast of Roman’s cart: the blue sky with a golden writing – the motto of the state: ‘Battle Born’. There is the sky and the sun. Also solitude which sometimes hurts the heart. There is sometimes no internet signal, but it is luckily. Contact with Wojtek and friends is valuable now. Every good word cheers up. Every bad word – hurts more. The road no. 50 runs across Nevada desert from Carson City to Ely by the border with Utah. This is a place where he wants to leave his bike. If it had not been for his help, Nevada would be too difficult. The magazine ‘Life’ gave the road no. 50 the title ‘the most solitary road in the USA’. On 470 km there are scattered small colonies. Stephen King wrote his novel ‘Desperation’ here. Cold at night and heat during a day. Now the sun is shining strongly again. A filament of asphalt is getting smaller in it till it disappears in a shaking cloud of the hot air 20 miles away, somewhere on the border of the land and sky.

Feathers of a hawk

4 June. After night, on a dumpster smelling of juniper, Roman drank a morning coffee and packed his tent. The Holy Mass is at 11.00 and there is one mile to the church. Eureka town is like a set design for a western film. Houses by the main street can be counted with fingers and toes. There is a saloon, bank and a sheriff. Before the Holy Mass a quick bath in a washbasin at the petrol station.

5 June, Roman reports: ‘When you have glucose in blood, enough water and bones relaxed after sleep on a soft bed – your life is passing quickly and beautiful thoughts build smart sentences themselves. But when you are waking up on the desert, in pains, with sand in your mouth and you do not know whether to moan first or scratch a mosquito bite – it may be the same!’ Yesterday three feathers of a hawk were added to my hat. For reaching three other peaks. One was called Pinta, like one of the three caravels of Columbus when he was sailing to discover the New World. The flagship caravel was called Santa Maria. The ship was leading. And it is the same now…

Fr. Tom said that on the desert one can meet a lot of kinds of solitude. Now he sees that all of them are different ways to the Meeting.

Like at home

The meeting of Wojtek with Fr. Louis. He is listening, but asking substantive questions and carefully reading a reference document from archbishop Andrzej Dzięga. He is looking for information on internet, and finds it. A moment later he hears the words: ‘Feel home’. Wojtek got a room, supper, was shown where a bathroom was (after four days of his walking without a bath…), and later Fr. Louis put his clothes into a washing machine.

17 June Wojtek made a crazy step. He walked 38 miles, that is, over 60 km. After a day spent on resting – thanks to hospitality of Fr. Louis – he was even overfilled with energy….His legs stopped being obedient only at the end. When he got to the church in Worland, Fr. Rodrigez, informed by Fr. Louis, placed him in a motel; considering ceremonies he could not give him accommodation. In the motel Wojtek’s legs were happy to feel hot water.

Roman is passing through the border of Colorado state. Interestingly enough, as on the same day Wojtek entered the same state, but from the north. They are to meet in a few days, in Denver, at the intersection of the cross with which America was indicated. It is very hot, especially when the wind gets quieter. The landscape is still the same: emptiness, dry bushes and rocks of fantastic shapes. It is necessary to go. It is necessary to find accommodation. And tomorrow over twenty miles on the asphalt again through dry bushes and the day after tomorrow and later….There is rosary prayer. He pushes aside monotony. It is shorter time till the meeting of Roman and Wojtek….

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 28/2018 (15 VII 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl