Up Front and Personal

Hiking With the Friars

By Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D.

St. Francis surely was smiling upon us.

It was the perfect fall day for Frs. Erik, Sam, and Fred, Capuchin Friars partnered with the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, to welcome us all at the outdoor shrine of St. Anthony at Graymoor in Garrison, NY.

If you’ve never been to Graymoor, you should, either on your own, with family, or with your parish. Just 54 miles north of the city (approximately 1.5 hours from Brooklyn by car), the grounds are spacious and rolling, perfect for pandemic distancing. Multiple historic chapels offer plentiful places to pray.

You can even donate to or shop at the thrift store, where all proceeds benefit St. Christopher’s Inn, a residential shelter run by the friars and laypeople with a very high success rate for helping men overcome substance abuse.

Graymoor is the American Assisi, radiating palpable feelings of positivity and renewal. It’s from here that we set off, the friars and about 20 hikers of all ages from fourth grade to gray hair. During prayer and reflection, Father Erik likened our adventure to the spiritual pursuits of St. Francis, St. John Paul II, and Blessed Frassatti, all holy men who dove into the divine through communion with nature.

For God is not only present in his holy word, but in his holy works, too, meaning all of creation. This hike was unlike any others that I experienced. Because we began by intentionally framing the hike as an offering to and blessing of God, I realized that everything around me was filled with his Spirit.

Every fluttering leaf, every chirping cricket, every spider scuttling across mossy rock, every wisp of wind—all were singing praises to him. All were ways in which God was speaking directly to our hearts. Not only was the Spirit within everything, but within everyone as well.

Frs. Erik and Sam reminded us that we should encounter the Lord in every individual we meet, forsaking our prejudgments or biases to see the person in front of us as truly a child of God.

What an insightful and holy perspective to retain in a time when secular society rejoices in its ability to categorize and label people.

During this hike, we seemed able to encounter the Lord in each other. A motley group cobbled together just hours ago
from total strangers, we moved in rhythm and joy, united in spirit, mission, and mind. Truly, we were one body in Christ,
though each of us had our own unique talents and burdens, and though we were masked and socially distanced. We can ex-
tend this hiking phenomenon to the life of the Church. Though we are all distinct, moving parts, we contribute to the one-
ness of God’s kingdom exactly because we manifest a diversity of talents.

This Fall Franciscan Hike was exactly what I needed in this time of pandemic. I hope you can join us at Graymoor next time. It truly is a Holy Mountain.

Veronica Szczygiel, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director of Online Learning of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University.