Religious Freedom Walk 2012

by

Bob Williams

 

"Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Buen Camino, Let's Go! "Let's get our chant down right," Father Jack Lombardi encouraged us as we assembled in the entryway of the C&O Rail Trail in Hancock, MD. "Buen Camino" came from the 400-mile Camino that many, many people in Spain walk as a Pilgrimage. We were not walking 400 miles, but we were going for 100, a pretty impressive number -- nothing to shrug off. It was typical of Father Jack. I have known him for over ten years, and have served as choir director when he was our pastor at Fort Detrick, MD. He has been on the go as long as I have known him.

Twenty-eight of us gathered early Sunday morning after Mass on July 29th only to be stopped by ABC news of Hagerstown, MD for interviews. What were we about to undertake? Well, making pilgrimages is one of Father Jack's passions. This was not his first, and he will assure you, as I will testify, it will not be his last. He has already scheduled another one.

This pilgrimage had been titled "Religious Freedom Walk 2012." We proudly displayed that on the bright, fluorescent-yellow tee-shirts we donned in the parking lot at St. Peter's in Hancock. We looked good; we felt good, and why not? We were making a positive statement, standing up (walking, actually) for what we believe. We felt and still feel that our religious freedom will be compromised under the new HHS Mandate in what is commonly referred to as "Obamacare."

We hiked 13.5 miles that first day, shouting out our newly adopted rally cry: "Hey, Hey," yelled by Father Jack followed by "Ho, Ho." from the pilgrims and then "Buen Camino!" from Father Jack. Finally everyone responded with a mighty "Let's Go!" This chant would be our vocal identity for the next 100 miles.

Father led the troupe through the woods on the Rail Trail praying, chanting and praying again. We prayed our president would have a change of heart. We prayed for all unborn babies. We prayed for the sick, the poor and the hungry. We began praying for the blisters which formed not long into our march. Each step became a prayer as the blisters rubbed painfully. No problem. Jesus carried a heavy cross to his place of crucifixion, and I helped nail him there with my sin. Fortunately for all of us, God looks at our sacrifice and allows us to atone for our sins. This was a sacrifice, a sacrifice of eight days which for my wife and I meant putting off many things which became less important to us than the pilgrimage. Imagine the sacrifice a Catholic priest with two parishes must make. Father Jack used that example several times during the week as we had the luxury of daily Mass and his "to the point" homilies. Each day his message involved us, what we were doing and how we witnessed to our faith. He appealed to the younger people, trying to give them the sense of being pilgrims on the walk, on a mission to protect our religious freedom. As a grandfather, I am a bit unconnected to their generation. During our pilgrimage, I learned that they are pretty on- target as to where they want to be in life.

We stayed at Fort Frederick the first night. Father and several others went for a swim in the Potomac River. We each brought our own dinner and had juices and water provided by many supporters who drove pace cars and the RV driven by Bob Ezolt which carried our sleeping bags and water and all the First Aid supplies. Bob not only drove the 40-foot RV, he was right behind us all the way. The vehicle was large enough to actually protect us as we walked on the side of the highway. Most of the time, we were on Alternate Route 40, a very scenic journey.

Each night I played my guitar and sang a hymn before we prayed the "Liturgy of the Hours." No electric, just a guitar and song to set the atmosphere for prayer.

The second night we stayed at St. Mary's in Hagerstown. The younger kids didn't burn enough energy walking in 93 degree muggy weather all day; they had to play basketball in the school yard. In the middle was Father Lombardi in the same sandals he wore the entire 100 miles. He was an outstanding example for all of the pilgrims, tireless and focused on our mission. He kept up with youth 30 years his junior. Thank you, Lord for, our leader on this Pilgrimage! He asked us to do nothing which he, himself, was not willing to do.

The food was great at St. Mary's. The floor was hard, no mattress, just a sleeping bag. The girls/women slept upstairs, and the boys/men slept down in the cafeteria. It was all part of the pilgrimage, a journey which we would not soon forget!

We walked on to Middletown, MD, and had similar accommodations. In the middle of the night the burglar alarm went off and woke up everyone. Father Jack had to placate the policeman who came to check out what was going on and why all these people were sleeping in the church hall. It was a madhouse!

We stayed at St John's in Frederick, MD, and had a chance to speak with several people on the downtown streets. We had a message, and old and young alike were in tune with the reason for our Walk.

St. Anthony's Shrine in Ellicott City, MD, was fabulous! We didn't have softer floors to sleep on, but we had hot water in the showers, and that was the first hot water shower we were able to take since the pilgrimage began. The days were so, so hot, though, that no one minded the cold showers we all took in the RV. We had fun juggling 20 or more showers in a little over two hours while hooked up to the garden hose outside of our host parishes.

As we approached Baltimore, there were many blisters, but nothing but good cheer and no complaints. It was commonplace to treat our blisters every night and before heading out in the mornings. The traffic started getting heavier, and our flag bearer, Bill Fisher, would get was tested by the younger and slower walkers. He tried to keep a tight, military formation, but it was obvious that not too many in the group were accustomed to marching in formation. Road guards were at every intersection. The megaphone became a favorite of Father Jack, Bill Fisher, and Shannon Turlik, who became quite good at leading our chant. "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Buen Camino, Let's Go!

On Sunday, August 5th, just a half hour before arriving at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we all knelt and prayed on the sidewalk across the street from the Planned Parenthood abortion mill. One of those with us was Mary Burgan, who once a week is a sidewalk counselor at this very abortion mill. Mary is unusual in that she does not count a turnaround as a "save" until she sees the birth of the child. She had lots of pictures of her "saves" and quite proudly showed them to one and all.

We now had about at least 100 people walking behind us and were greeted by many supporters offering beverages and lunches. They were waiting for us wherever we stopped and would already be set up for us to stop, eat, and head out again each day.

Now we had finally reached our destination, the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where the Bishop was to celebrate Holy Mass. Concelebrating was Father Jack, who gave a wonderful talk after the Bishop gave his congratulations and thanks.

We were treated like heroes, but felt ever so humble in such a glorious building. So much history! So much character! So beautiful and inspiring for Catholics and all who visit Baltimore!

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Buen Camino, Let's Go!