This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz
This has been widely circulated, but it’s well worth reading and pondering: a modern story of pilgrimage and pure, undiluted trust:
They’ve been mistaken for Jedi-wannabes headed to a Star Wars convention. They’ve been investigated by police, approached by strangers, gawked at from cars and offered gifts of crumpled dollar bills and Little Debbie snacks.
After trekking along more than 300 miles of dusty Virginia country roads and suburban highways, six Franciscan friars reached Washington on Tuesday, having seen it all during an offbeat modern-day quest for God.
For six weeks, the brothers walked from Roanoke with only their brown robes, sandals and a belief in the kindness of strangers to feed and shelter them.
The sight of six men in flowing habits, trudging single file on the side of the road, prompted many to pull over and talk, even confess. People on their way to work described their loneliness. College students wanted help figuring out what to do with their lives. Children, mistaking them for the Shaolin monks in movies, ran up to ask the friars if they knew how to beat up bullies.
“Dressed like we are in our habits, it’s like a walking sign that says, ‘Tell us your life’s problems,’ ” explained Cliff Hennings, the youngest of the friars at 23.
In every instance, the friars made time for conversation. They shot the breeze with a gang of drunk bikers, dispensed relationship advice to the brokenhearted commuters and bore witness to one and all, yea, even to the Chik-fil-A employee dressed as a cow.
The pilgrimage was the idea of four young friars just finishing their training in Chicago and working toward taking lifelong vows. Seeking to emulate the wanderings of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, they wanted to journey together as a fraternity, ministering to one another and to strangers, while depending on God for every meal and place to sleep.
Joined by two older friars supervising their training, they picked as their destination a friary in Washington, D.C., called the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land — a symbolic gesture, because the actual Holy Land was too far away.
Then last month they drove from Chicago to Salem, just outside Roanoke, parked their van at a church and set out on foot.
They tried to live by the ascetic rules Jesus laid out for his 12 disciples: “Take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” The less they brought, they reasoned, the more room they could leave for God. The friars did make a few modifications, carrying a toothbrush, a wool blanket, water and a change of underwear (“a summer essential,” one explained), as well as one cellphone in case of emergency.
Some rules, however, had to be made on the fly. They had agreed not to carry any money, but just minutes into their first day, strangers were pressing dollar bills into their hands. So they made a pact to spend what they received each day on food, often high-protein Clif bars, and to give the rest to the needy.
They walked 15 miles their first day and found themselves at dusk in front of a fire station just outside Roanoke. One of the friars, Roger Lopez, a former fireman himself, knocked on the station door and asked whether there was somewhere they could sleep. As they talked, the friars spotted a giant trampoline out back.
“It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” said Lopez, 30.
The six spread out on the trampoline as if they were spokes on a wheel. But soon they realized gravity was against them, pulling everyone toward the center. Some tried to sleep clutching the side railing. When one person rolled over, the rest bobbed uncontrollably like buoys. No one got much sleep, but the firefighters did send them off the next morning with corned beef sandwiches.
Since then, they have slept on picnic tables outside Lynchburg, basement floors in Charlottesville, even on office tables at a food pantry.
One night they were hosted by a man with tattoos on his arms, an unkempt ponytail and all of his front teeth missing. He had pulled up in his beat-up Jeep and offered to let the friars stay with him in an old one-room schoolhouse in Nelson County.
“He looked like he had just gotten out of prison,” said Hennings, but the man turned out to be a Native American healer. The friars stayed up all night talking to him. He told them Native stories and played his double flute. They chanted Latin hymns in return and told him stories from the Gospel.
Read the rest and visit the photo gallery. It’s wonderful stuff.