by Sister Shirlee Tremont, M.F.P.
This pilgrimage from Great Meadows, New Jersey to Doylestown, Pa., began in early June when Father Mariusz Koch, C.F.R., proposed the possibility to me. At first, I thought it was absurd, but I agreed to pray about it. Once I got the details, I was convinced that it was not for me mainly because of the camping at night. Further research had me find that I would be able to sleep at the shrine in Doylestown as opposed to camping out each night.
Once that became a reality, I immediately upped my walking game. I began walking everywhere I need to go. I wouldn’t call it all-out training, but I was conscious that I needed to be able to log quite a few miles — 57.5 to be exact. I was upping my prayer game at once. I was fully aware that even as my fitness level increased, I was not going to make this walk of my own ability. So, I invited the Lord to come for a stroll. He did join me, but as the Lord will often do, it was according to His plan and not mine.
On the day of the pilgrimage I arrived at St. Frances de Chantal Church for a 4:30 a.m. departure by bus to New Jersey. After a brief prayer service in the church, led by Father Mariusz, the actual pilgrimage began.
The terrain was somewhat hilly, and there was one path that was quite muddy and very rocky. My energy was good and my enthusiasm was better! It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. that I got tired. My feet were rebellious, to say the least, but I still felt strong.
Before reaching the campsite, the sister/nurse who was traveling with us advised that I might want to ride with her in the van for the last six miles because of the blisters on my feet. I did not follow her advice because the stubbornness in me and perhaps the old competitive athlete in me, live by a “never say die” and “do by self” attitude!
Those six miles were excruciating! My feet were crying, “You prideful fool!”
But I responded, “Yes! But I made it!”
Once at the campsite, we celebrated Holy Mass, followed by a period of Eucharistic adoration. The longer I sat the stiffer I became, and I could feel my feet burning. I tried to offer it to the Lord, but I believe it lost something between “please” and “help me, Lord!”
By the next morning my body had recovered and felt strong. However, there was no way my feet were going to comply. I had no choice but to, “ throw in the towel.”
What I faced the next few days, I’ve now turned the struggle between the old athletes’ attitude and the pilgrims perspective. I had to struggle with a bit of anger toward myself, feeling that I went into this endeavor without being fully prepared. Then I dealt with disappointment, remembering the people who I had promised to carry their intentions along the pilgrimage.
I did return home after the 23.1 miles of day one, but I was determined to carry the prayers I had promised to pray. So I set out the next two days on my bicycle with the prayer intentions tucked in my pocket.
The riding time gave me much opportunity to think. I eventually came to realize that everything I was thinking and feeling — my failure, my inability to complete the pilgrimage, was all about me. I had lost my focus on the real purpose and for whom I was walking and that, of course, was the Lord. So it true with our life, we falter and find ourselves in some ways incomplete when the journey becomes about us instead of about the Lord Jesus Christ.
As of today the pilgrimage for me is no longer about finishing or not finishing. It’s become more about realizing that the Lord is in control. He can make a way where there is none. And, when I place all my trust in Him, all things are possible.
This experience has humbled me a great deal, and for that I am grateful. I’ve learned more from “deFEET” than I would have in “victory/ competition.”
I have had some saintly companions on my journey. Gratitude for their sincere support overwhelm me. But, I am more overwhelmed by the love, the mercy, and the working of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Sidenote: next year better sneakers and a lighter backpack!
Sister Shirlee Tremont, M.F.P., is a teacher at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy in Dyker Heights and a former Division I softball player at Temple University, Philadelphia.