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Pilgrim's progress

Kate Moriarty  |  02 November 2020

Twenty years ago, I travelled with two million other people to World Youth Day in Rome. I’ve become a little nostalgic for my travels. In 2000, I went to Rome, Assisi and Taizé. In 2020, I took the bins out, I drove to the chemist, and I bought drive-thru milk.

But the WYD trip wasn’t glamorous. Sleeping on hard floors, taking outdoor cold showers, walking 20 kilometres in 40 degree heat, lost luggage, cancelled buses, and don’t ask me about the porta-potty situation. I’m pretty sure those memories have been repressed.

On a pilgrimage, things are supposed to be uncomfortable. We had this journal with a reflection printed in it: ‘May I always remember, I am a pilgrim, not a tourist’. At times I imagined the line said through gritted teeth, but the idea stuck with me. There was something about having my endurance tested that stripped me back to my most authentic self, compelled me to pray and brought the beauty of the experience into sharp relief.

I can still remember the advice our group leader gave us. ‘During this pilgrimage’, Brother Damien said, ‘you will need to spend time outside, with the singing crowds; you will need to spend time inside, strengthening bonds with our group; and you will need to spend time inside-inside, by yourself in prayer, reflecting on these experiences.’

Lately, I’ve been thinking that travelling through 2020 has been like a pilgrimage. I live in Melbourne. Suffering through the stress and worry of coronavirus, coping with restriction after restriction, living with six children in crowded isolation: I’ve felt like my endurance has been stretched to its limit.

It’s now that I remember Br Damien’s words: I must spend time outside. At many times during this pilgrimage, this was done remotely, writing letters and telling people they are on mute. I must spend time inside, strengthening bonds with my fellow pilgrims, playing board games and ruining sourdough. I must spend time inside-inside, in reflection and prayer. 2020 has forced me to take more initiative with prayer, as I haven’t been able to go to Mass for most of the year.

On mornings when I remember it, I gather the family around the table for prayer. The children share their special intentions, often about the pandemic.

‘I pray that this will be over soon’, five-year-old Penny says.

‘We pray that the pandemic will be over soon’, I repeat encouragingly.

‘Not corona!’, corrects Penny. ‘Prayer time! This is boring!’

Penny’s twin, Pippi, found another way to relieve her frustration. At around nine o’clock, after lights-out time, Pippi crept out of bed. We have all four girls sharing a room. It’s not ideal, but we make it work. Pippi has a fascination with her 15-year-old sister Matilda’s possessions and she knew all about the purple hair dye Matilda had bought two days ago and stored in her desk drawer. When Matilda came upstairs she started yelling.

There was purple on the walls, purple on the floor, on the doorknobs, and on a brashly defiant Pippi. I decided to take inspiration from my World Youth Day accommodation and stuck her in a cold shower to clean off. Matilda, meanwhile, grimly attacked the wall stains with anti-dandruff shampoo.

After Matilda and I took turns ranting on the topic of ‘Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, after Pippi was washed and admonished. (‘Will you do this again?’ ‘No. I don’t like cold showers.’), after Matilda and her dad finished scrubbing the walls and floor and doorknobs, we stood back to survey the damage.

There was still purple on the wall, but now it was more of a pale lavender stain. It’s better, but not perfect.

That’s OK. I am a pilgrim, not a tourist.

 

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