The Gift of Walking to Mass

One of things that I love about summer is walking to Mass. For people who live in the city, this may seem odd. Many can, and do, walk to their parishes. For those of us in the suburbs, walking to Mass can be a novelty.

Our parish has a simple chapel that is open seasonally to accommodate vacationers; it's impressive to see how many people chose to attend Mass while on holiday. It's a blessing to see the chapel fill and hear the responses proclaimed by so many voices! This year, we are doubly blessed. The chapel opened earlier than usual and will remain so a month past Labor Day.

Truthfully, my husband and I would gladly sit, bundled in our winter coats, in the unheated building if it remained open year-round!

This privilege of a ten-minute walk to Mass was driven home to us by a recent visitor from the missions. Father Bernard Makadani Zulu of Chipata, Zambia has been a friend since we met at a national meeting of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States in 2007. At the time, he was the National Director for the Societies in Zambia and an invited speaker at our meeting. He was also my host when I visited his country years later.

We've spent a lot of time catching up these past few weeks. Being from a rural mission diocese, Father has many interesting stories to tell about his family (including his 89-year-old mother who still works her 100-acre farm!) and the life of the mission Church.

One really hit home. He told us about two elderly women who walk to church every week -- even if no priest is present. They come for the faith formation provided by a catechist, who has been trained in a program funded by The Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The one-way trip takes them a day and a half. They set out in the morning and walk until dark, relying on the kindness of strangers on the route to provide them with a safe place to roll out their mats and sleep. The next day, they walk half a day until they arrive at the outstation.

Mass is generally a few hours long, after which they eat a meal and set out, walking the same distance to get home. While it is true that walking is the regular mode of transportation for most people in the area, these women exemplify what many in the missions are willing to do to be part of a faith community.

May our commitment to Christ and His Church be as resolute as theirs.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.