Posted February 15, 2011:
A Solo Walk Across Canada

by Adam Rieger.

When I walked across Canada alone on pilgrimage last summer, I had many adventures in the Lord.

One day, I met a man named Sean, who told me that if I needed a place to sleep, I could sleep at his place. I really did need one for that night, but the problem was he was a homeless man suffering from various addictions including alcoholism and heroin.

Though I was very apprehensive about taking him up on his offer, I felt that God was asking me to do so, and so I went.

My apprehension grew as I was escorted by my host down a long path to a ravine. There in a small clearing was a tarp-covered space containing a fire pit and a bench the man had made himself.

Sean built a fire, shared his food with me, and even offered me some of his alcohol, though I did not partake of it.

We sat up for a good part of the night talking about our personal journeys with Christ. As we shared together, I realized more and more that Sean was the most generous man I’d met on my travels. Like the widow in the Gospel who gave her two copper coins, he was sharing with me all he had in this world.

I was making a pilgrimage because I wanted deeply, though I knew I was not worthy, to serve God and to entrust myself completely to his care. I wanted to experience for myself that God is at our side at every moment and that faith can indeed move mountains.

Plus a great desire burned within me to spread the love of God to my brothers and sisters in this world.

I meditated on the fact that Christ himself traveled on foot and relied on the generosity of those he met.

After praying and discussing this desire with my spiritual father, I decided that the form the pilgrimage would take would be to walk across Canada alone—well, not completely across. I would begin in Edmonton, my home, and end at Madonna House, Combermere.

We settled on a set of rules or guidelines with the understanding that these were designed for my benefit and if it turned out that they were not, I would ignore them.

1) I would not hitchhike, exhibit a sign, or solicit rides. I would, however, accept any ride which was offered to me.

2) I would carry no money except what was given to me during the journey.

3) I would carry only a day’s worth of food.

4) I would not bring a tent—just a tarp in case of rain. Outside of that, I wanted to be at the mercy of the elements and the insects. This turned out to be the greatest penance of the journey.

I made a basic map, wrote out some directions, packed my knapsack as lightly as I could, and collected prayer intentions. (By the end of the pilgrimage, I had compiled over 140 of them.)

With only slight anxiety, I began a journey of 3,539 km’s from the back alley of Marian Center Edmonton with a bagged lunch (courtesy of MCE) in one hand and a chotki, (Russian prayer beads) in the other.

Little did I know I had departed on the journey of a lifetime, a journey on which I was to encounter over and over both amazing generosity and the hardest struggles of my life.

The walking was hard, but no matter how hard it became at times to take just a single step, I felt peaceful interiorly, and I knew that he who loves us more than we can fathom was always at my side. In fact, no essential need was ever left unmet.

Night had its challenges and hardships. Many times as I lay outdoors, I was unable to sleep for more than a couple hours because of mosquitoes. Those nights I prayed to all the saints and angels I could think of, and I received great comfort.

One night, when I was feeling totally desolate, someone gave me a ride and dropped me off at the door of a restaurant. The owner took me in and fed me all I could eat free of charge.

At first, I didn’t ask for anything, but at a certain point in my journey, I was given the grace to beg for the things I needed. In doing so, I tried my best to allow myself to be led by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

There wasn’t a single time I was refused what I asked for, and in many cases, I was given more than that.

Before this journey, it was inconceivable to me that you could knock on someone’s door and they would take you in for the night, no questions asked. But that is what I did a number of times, and each time resulted in a different scenario.

One time I ended up spending two nights in an old RV on someone’s property. Another night, a man gave me a place to sleep on a lawn chair in his unfinished attic. A third evening found me in a man’s living room watching a movie with a cold glass of water.

Still another time, a woman who was not comfortable having a strange man sleeping in her house, stayed up all night watching movies with me so that I could spend the night indoors.

With only one exception, the people who took me in were wonderfully kind.

Then eventually I began to see that God’s providence works both ways. At one point I got picked up by a trio of New Age spiritualists who were heading for Quebec.

When I discovered that they had run out of money for gas, I was able to give them the fifty dollars that someone had given me, so that my companions and I could continue on.

On another occasion, I was able to share a generous donation of delicious aged cheese with a couple of friends I met along the way.

Time and time again, God allowed me to be tested to my limits and beyond. But the more he did this, the more I realized that he wouldn’t let me go. So I was able to allow myself to go deeper and deeper.

Slowly I began to realise that I had nothing to worry about.

There’s something about a physical pilgrimage that keeps one very aware of his pilgrimage to God.

A pilgrim cannot walk more than a single step at a time. A pilgrim, no matter how daunting his or her situation, must continue to move forward. A pilgrim must rely totally on sources outside himself for nourishment.

And though alone, a pilgrim travels as part of the whole global community. His family becomes the whole province, the whole nation, the whole world.

Every person he meets along the road he treasures as a friend and treats with love, respect, and all the care he has for his own blood family. For this person brings life and companionship and the presence of Christ.

I learned much in my journey. First were faith, hope, and trust. I learned to continue on with half of what I needed trusting that God had the rest stored away somewhere for me for later.

At times, empty and afraid, I crawled back to God like a child to its mother.

Perhaps the most valuable gift I received from my travels was insight into my own poverty, and now my heart yearns to be always poor and destitute before our Lord.

I desire deeply to continue to allow God to provide for my every need, to be on my knees before the Lord begging for his mercy.

I know that God will always be with me, that he will always give to me in great abundance.

Only God satisfies me.

Adam, a friend of Marian Centre Edmonton, is 22 years old. When he reached Combermere, the end of his pilgrimage, he stayed on for six weeks as a working guest.

The authors of the two pilgrimage articles, Adam and Paul, were at MH at the same time.


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