Gerard W Hughes. Kind friends have loaned me their copies of seminal pilgrimage accounts by Gerard Hughes SJ, both of which have harnessed my attention and made me think carefully about the rationale of long-distance journeys to holy places.
In Search of a Way: two journeys of spiritual discovery. Hughes’ pilgrimage walk to Rome, pre-dates our awareness of the re-established Via Francigena. He started out from Weybridge and calculated his own route across the continent, appealing to the charity of parish priests, convents and monasteries for accommodation when circumstances and weather prevented him from camping. Instead of using sabbatical time for higher or further study, Hughes donned his boots, loaded his rucksack and set off on a venture that turned into two journeys: the physical journey of walking to Rome and the inner journey of his mind and heart as he explored the inner mechanisms of the Catholic Church, his own place within that ‘machine’, and how his own Christian beliefs have guided him towards proactivity in the name of peace and justice in the world.
Walk to Jerusalem. His walk to Jerusalem, from his home town of Skelmorlie in Ayrshire, is also a story of two journeys. Alongside the physical challenge of walking through Holland, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Greece and then by boat to Haifa, we follow his inner spiritual journey through life with copious flashbacks that occupy his thinking as he walks the highways and byways.
Neither book is a marketing attempt to sell the idea of long-distance walking. Both books dwell on the inevitable mixture of the highs and lows of the physical effort, the challenges of surviving the elements and meeting with both helpful and uncooperative people. The capsules he describes of each day’s journey are an opportunity to create links with his past, people he has met, places he has worked in and projects he has supported. He takes a critical look at the role of the Church in matters of unassailable importance: peace and justice, nuclear disarmament, the role the Church played in Nazi Germany, its attitude to the role of the laity, to mixed marriages, to ecumenism, and much more.
The long-distance traveller, especially the lone traveller, will spend many hours each day absorbed in thought, and the cadence of the journey (walking, cycling, riding horseback) can be a catalyst to reflection, meditation, planning for the future, and generally getting things in our lives into perspective. Hughes used both journeys to explore his own inner self, and through his ‘mental meanderings’ we gain a privileged insight into who he is and what he stands for.