Our Walk in Photos
I - Mony - begin this picture story where it ended: Jerusalem.
Alberto (from the sun-drenched lands of Andalucía, Spain) and I (a Canadian-born Lebanese woman) had just walked 5000 kilometers through 13 countries – for peace. Because we believe that peace in the world begins with peace within. It had taken us 13 grueling months, along a path more mystical than physical called the Way of the Soul, a path we are ultimately all walking.
I invite you to join us. on this journey
The journey begins on the Path of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain. I had left the comforts of the known, and embarked on a quest for self. My wanderings eventually brought me to the Camino. Here, along the arid plains of La Meseta, I would hear the words that would ignite my imagination:
"The path to Jerusalem is called the Way of the Soul. It is on that journey that you hear whispered its deepest longing."
I knew then that I would walk that path.
"Why did you start walking in Rome?" is a question I was often asked. Many assumed I was Catholic. I am not. I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, but never practiced that religion. I do believe in a Higher Power or Intelligence called by many names: God, Allah, the Universe, Creator, Universal Consciousness...but that, to me, is above all else, Love. All paths spiritual ultimately lead to this Love.
On the Camino, I learned that the pilgrimage to Rome is called the Way of the Heart, where the pilgrim or inititate on this journey of self-knowing explores the meaning of love; and not only human love, but Love that is beyond all our bounded definitions of the word. It is to understand the meaning of Divine Love.
I wanted to begin at the heart of that Love, at a sacred site that was imbued with the energy and devotion of other pilgrims before me. On November 21, 2001, I took my starting picture, and my first steps towards Jerusalem.
Those first days of walking alone were difficult. There were no yellow arrows (as on the Camino) to show me the way. I was on the open road, facing traffic, often with little or no shoulder to walk on. There was no one waiting for me at the end of the day or calling to make sure that I had arrived safely. If I disappeared, no one would know about it. More than once, I questioned the sanity of my decision.
The people I met were polite, and curious to meet the woman they had passed in their cars. To my surprise, the Italians that I met only spoke their language. It was becoming clear that I needed to learn Italian – and fast! On the quieter side roads, the scenery helped me forget the loneliness of the way.
This photo was taken on the way to Rieti, and exemplifies the many villages that dot the very scenic foothills of Monti Sabini.
I had met Alberto for one day in Finisterre, a town at the end of the Camino, whose name literally means the end of the world. It seems fitting that we would meet there as I was about to end one journey and begin another. He liked my idea of walking to Jerusalem, but didn't feel especially called to do it. We parted ways that same day, and I never expected to see him again.
Two months later, as I was making my way to Rome to begin my walk, our paths would unexpectedly cross again, in the home of a mutual friend. This time, he felt compelled to join me, citing "signs" and "omens" that were too powerful to ignore. I wasn't sure I wanted company for that length of time, or how we would communicate with my negligible Spanish and his high-school English.
But I, too, felt similar signs tugging at me to acquiesce. I did, and left him to prepare, while I continued ahead to Rome. Ten days later, he would join me in Rieti. On December 5, 2001, we took our first steps together. This photo was taken on the road near Rieti leading to the Franciscan monastery of La Foresta.
Having a walking partner now meant having to compromise on what I imagined my walk for peace to look like. I was sleeping in hostels and pensions, but Alberto didn't have the economic means to do that, or to enjoy a hot meal at the end of our cold days of walking. Cheese and bread were his staples. He told me that, on the Camino, he met a pilgrim who walked without money. Every night, he called on the Church door for help and took whatever shelter they offered him, usually the floor of some hall they had. The pilgrim never asked for food, but was usually offered it.
Alberto wanted to do the same, but encouraged me to continue sleeping in hostels and eating in restaurants. How could I, in all good conscience, leave him to sleep on some floor somewhere while I was in a warm, cozy bed? Or enjoy a hot bowl of soup while he was eating bread?
So, I chose to join him, calling on monastery and church doors every evening, explaining that we were pilgrims walking for peace, silently praying each time that they would take us in. To my great surprise, almost every night, we had a roof over our heads. Some nights, we had heating and hot water. The occasional night, we were invited to a meal.
In this photo, we are sleeping on the floor of the church hall, where the priest generously turned on the heaters on this brutally cold December night. With us is Biancospino, a pilgrim dog we met in a hermitage high atop a mountain, and who would accompany us to Assisi. Alberto is cutting out the letters that would eventually make up the signs we would carry on our backpacks.
A picture speaks a thousand words! With our impossible-to-miss signs, we became magnets for people wanting to stop and ask about our walk. It was also an opportunity for us to reiterate our message that peace in the world begins with peace within, and that small acts of kindness weave the fabric of peace.
On this day entering Cotignola, a journalist stopped us for the first of many more interviews to come in Italy. The article opened doors for even more people to engage with us. However, speaking with the media would create tension between Alberto and I. He wanted to speak openly about his inner journey, the spiritual pilgrimage that we were walking, while I saw every mention of the word "God" or "spirituality" alienating us and stamping us with a "religious" label that I longed to avoid. I saw our message as a universal one and not tied to any one religion...and I wanted to keep it that way. I also believed my spirituality to be a personal matter, whereas Alberto shared his openly.
Having the courage to speak openly and authentically about my spiritual journey would become the hallmark of our long walk to Jerusalem.
It was Christmas Eve, and we were both missing our families. We had finally arrived in Coriano, after being lost in the mountains for several hours, and were longing to rest. As had become our custom, we asked the local priest for help, and accepted the church hall that he offered us. That day, however, as we were explaining our needs, a friendly-looking couple was listening in, and eagerly began speaking with the priest. It clearly pertained to us because they kept looking over at us, but I couldn't understand their rapid-fire Italian. The priest finally said, "benne, benne," before leading them into his office and closing the door. When they came out again, the couple said the words that would forever be etched in my memory,
"Please, we would like you to stay in our home this Christmas Eve."
Our hosts, Seraphino and Loretta, brought us back to their place, and made us feel a welcome and honored part of their family. Their love and generosity was beyond anything we could have imagined. We may have been far from our own families, but that night, we felt as if we had come home. Thank you, Seraphino and Loretta, our Christmas angels.
Padua, home of St. Anthony, the saint of providence. Providence would bring us to a most loving woman named Luciana and a hospitable youth community led by a wonderful priest, Father Sergio.
Despite many magical moments and experiences, disagreements between Alberto and I regarding how to walk this path of peace, threatened our walk to Jerusalem. More than once, we spoke of separating; but then how could we speak about creating peace in the world if we couldn't even create it between us? We resolved to work out our differences, and to continue together, with each one loyal to the call of their inner journey.
Venice. One of the standout moments of our walk, a moment filled with the kinds of coincidences and magic that are beyond words and that leave you awed.
We had learned that, in ancient times, pilgrims used to depart for Jerusalem from the port in Venice. They would be blessed at a special pilgrim's mass at St. Mark's Cathedral before saying their farewells to their families and boarding their vessels.
In a modern-day recreation of this ancient ceremony, we would walk in the footsteps of pilgrims before us, receive a most unexpected blessing and an unforgettable farewell from our new families: children who had just returned from Jerusalem as part of a peace project involving Israelis, Palestinian and Italian children. They were "coincidentally" in the plaza on a field trip.
In this photo, Alberto holds the booklet of their efforts called: "We give peace a boost with six hands".