Paul McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review.


October 2015
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Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 8

The final full day of the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy began with a jolt to the nervous system. Maureen Cromer had to get from the gym at the former St. Philomena School to the 30th Street Train Station bright and early Sept. 27 to greet the Amtrak express from Baltimore – an aspect of the day pilgrims being shepherded by the archdiocese and Catholic Review Media that had been the genesis of our walk. Hearing horror stories about security in Center City, Maureen rode shotgun while I started her car at around 5:20 a.m. We were stopped at a red light on Baltimore Pike without a whiff of coffee, when a gleaming set of teeth that resembled the Chesire Cat came out of the dark and a hand pounded on her window. We jumped and screamed, until we recognized Matt Pieper. The father of Shanon and Logan needed to rendezvous with another daughter, to watch the Papal Mass with her.

He hopped in the back seat, and I let the two of them off at 38th Street, the western security perimeter. Twenty minutes later, it made for a light moment during a radio interview with WBAL’s Robert Lang.

Back at St. Philomena, pilgrims were waking and packing for the final time. All were given a golden ticket, courtesy of Father Paul Castellani, the pastor. Like most outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we had been thrown a curveball when organizers announced that a ticket would be required for admittance above Logan Circle to the papal Mass along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. For the most part we struck out Sept. 9, when some extras became available online. The next morning, Father Paul said not to worry, he had set aside tickets for his guests from Baltimore.

His gym is decorated with banners of CYO basketball championships, no small distinction in what I consider America’s best basketball town. “Come back in a few weeks,” Father Paul said. “We’re honoring one of the teams that included Phil Martelli (the longtime coach of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia). Phil’s dad is in (7:30 a.m.) Mass right now.”

So was Mary Bergin, unbeknownst to the rest of the pilgrims. Search parties couldn’t locate her until 8:30 a.m., when she came across the parking lot pushing a wheelchair she had procured for Madelyn Milstead, who had been hobbled with an ankle injury for several days. We folded the wheelchair into the back of the St. Ignatius van – aka the Baltimore Popemobile – which I piloted 4.5 miles to the corner of 38th and Market Streets, where I waited in the Corner Bakery with Madelyn; her mom, Catherine; and others for Father Jack and the walkers. Leaning on his roots in Oregon, Kevin Brown drove the van back to St. Philomena, then ran down Father Jack’s group, yeoman duty he repeated later that day.

Some wait out the morning at the Corner Bakery at Market and 38th Streets. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

They arrived at 10:35 a.m., according to a group text I sent the media. The minutes before and after were giddy with anticipation, as pilgrims passed out prayer cards and told visiting religious women that their money was no good, “let me pay for your coffee.” With little more than a mile left between us and Pope Francis, it seemed that we crossed the Schuylkill River on air rather than on Market Street. Turning north on 21st Street around 11:30 a.m., everything ground to a crawl just past the portable toilets under JFK Boulevard. It took us nearly two hours to move as many blocks, a wait made terminable by the universal church made visible and all of those little babies in tow. When pilgrims complained of claustrophobia, I told them to turn around and look back, at all of the faces behind them, rather than the backs in front.

Patience was required on 21st Street, near Arch. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

Without Madelyn getting us access to a handicapped entrance, we probably would not have made it through security in time to line up along a snow fence and watch the papal motorcade before 4 p.m. Mass. That I took the following video on Maureen’s mini-tablet is not noteworthy: the miracle is that I sat down on the grass, fired up Chris Gunty’s mobile wireless hotspot and e-mailed it to her in three segments. Somehow, God graced me with the patience and presence to slow down and follow the prompts appearing on the mini.

Watch a video of the pilgrims greeting the pope.

Transmitting that, I multi-tasked and opened the bag lunch that Laura Hamilton and other moms had prepared – my PBJ was better than filet mignon. Around me, it was as packed as a Preakness infield, but with an entirely different sense of decorum, one evidenced during communion, when others waved strangers in the direction of lines for communion. I had seen the Holy Father, albeit from a greater distance, in St. Peter’s Square last April. Attempting to process the afternoon and the week it took to get from Baltimore to Philadelphia, I realized that, at least for me, the journey was the destination.

From left, Eun Ya Williams, her husband, Bob, and Mary Bergin watch the papal motorcade, moments after it had passed in front of them. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

We picked up Father Jack and his through walkers by van around 50th Street on Baltimore Pike, and drove them back to St. Philomena. Leftover pizza from Saturday night became our final meal on the road, and I think Pope Francis would have approved. Some asked for other pilgrims to sign their T-shirts. I second-guessed what we would change – put “Feet for Francis” on those, introduce 9-year-old Philomena Tiller to the faithful at St. Philomena and hire a media consultant – but then I thought of all that went right.

Adult pilgrims on chairs, with youths on the floor, give thanks at the end of an eight-day journey that had some walk 110 miles. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

There was the manner in which very private pilgrims became rather public evangelists, as reported that evening by the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.  There was also the weather that God blessed us with, as we beat the remnants of Hurricane Joaquin by a week.

Speaking of forces of nature, Father Jack tossed this into an Oct. 7 email:

“Wanna talk to you about another project I am working on sometime!”


October 11, 2015 07:52
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 7


Recounting thoughts from Sept. 26, I am writing mid-day Oct. 10. The morning started with a 10-mile run with the Baltimore Pacemakers through the beauty of the Loch Raven watershed. Taking my customary position at the back of the pack, I heard an auto behind me and reflexively yelled the warning that began this post.

Thank you, Father Jack Lombardi (be patient, I will connect the dots).

My first decade in journalism was spent at evening papers, before there were laptop computers. No sweat. The morning after a game, I would rise early, be in the office on West Street in Annapolis or Calvert Street in Baltimore, and have 500 words filed by 7 a.m. I often stir before 5 a.m. My Scot, Irish and German DNA is geared to the Irish and North Seas. Eat dinner early, retire early, wake early.

From left, Joe Snyder, Martin Webbert and Edmund Tiller join Father Jack Lombardi at the head of the pilgrimage pack. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff

Father Jack, meanwhile, is equally proud of his Italian heritage, and maintains a Mediterranean rhythm. He sends emails at 12:45 a.m. I reply at 5:45 a.m. After walking 16 miles with teens and seniors in tow, he’ll take the former to a basketball or tennis court, and let them blow off more energy tossing a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball. Only then, do they sit down for evening prayer and witness. Lights out is often not until 11 p.m. It took a week to comprehend the method of Father Jack’s brand of madness. He wants youths to test their limits, share their impressions and develop leadership skills.

So it was that on an overcast Saturday morning, while I was ready to hit the road and pilgrims lingered over continental breakfast outside the Mirenda Center at Neumann University, that 14-year-old Martin Webbert of St. Ursula Parish in Parkville, sharing how he had matured under Father Jack’s tutelage, uttered the following: “Like Mr. Paul said yesterday: Everybody needs to be yelled at sometime.”

I had tossed that line off while pontificating the previous morning in a support vehicle that included Martin. My son, Don, will recall my histrionics and words from 20 years ago, with specific detail, and it was another reminder that, like the John Prine song goes, little pitchers do indeed have big ears.

We had a challenging morning, walking on two-lane winding roads from Neumann U. to the town of Media. I worked the back of the line to Father Jack’s front, one of my responsibilities being to listen for, and warn those ahead, about cars coming from behind. Throughout, I fumed that the teens Father Jack had running interference for him up front were not being assertive enough with oncoming traffic. Duh. How else will they learn to lead?

Lunch at Pinocchio’s in Media, Pa., was memorable for multiple reasons. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)

Lunch was marvelous, on multiple counts. Miguel Almaguer and a crew from the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt began a six-hour stretch with us. The meal was going to come out of money donated by strangers in previous days. We ate and drank more than $140 worth of cheese steak subs, pizzas and sodas. When I got the bill, it was $40 and change. Patrons inside the restaurant had chipped in that much.


Father Jack’s hat trick works better with a clerical collar. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)

The spirit kept soaring after Maureen Cromer was involved in a minor fender-bender.  It soared even higher along Baltimore Pike, after we crossed under Interstate 476 and neared Philadelphia. The surroundings transitioned from affluent to well-worn, from boutiques to barrooms. Twenty-four hours from the prospect of seeing Pope Francis, Father Jack and his pilgrims kicked into another gear. Matt Pieper, father of Shanon and Logan, sprinted across the street to share prayer cards with auto mechanics. Women in the 2005 college classroom uniform (T-shirt and pajama bottoms) stepped out of rowhomes to visit and get selfies with Kevin Brown and Bob Williams.

In Lansdowne, we glimpsed the steeple at St. Philomena, the end of an approximate 12-mile day. Sitting for photos on the front steps, I shushed others, that 5:15 p.m. Mass was under way. We walked into a gorgeous 19th century worship space during the consecration, and stood or kneeled in the back. Father Jack had previously talked over the phone with Father Paul Castellani, the pastor, but the two had never exchanged a glance until the former went up to help with the distribution of communion. We went up to receive Father Paul’s blessing, and he joined us in the gym of the former school, our home for our last night on the road, where dinner was on him, pizza and another Philadelphia tradition, soft pretzels. I ate with a black woman, a parishioner, who told me that she knew many Oblate Sisters of Providence, back in Baltimore.

Having covered approximately 104 miles in a week, pilgrims rest on the steps of St. Philomena Church in Lansdowne, Pa. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)

Maureen and I set up our laptops in the rectory kitchen, where Father Ukachukwu Onyeabor rinsed and cut vegetables while talking to others on his Bluetooth. Between conversations, I asked him his homeland. “Biafra,” he said. “I remember,” I answered, and he raised an eyebrow in appreciation.

Kids, look it up.


October 10, 2015 06:21
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 6

Walking the Brandywine Valley Sept. 24 and finally enjoying the demands and rhythms of the road, I felt the strong presence of my parents, who have been gone a while now. At that moment, a butterfly – OK, given the season, it might have been a moth – flittered from behind my left shoulder and in front of me, hanging there for a few strides. The next morning, on day six of the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy, we awoke Sept. 25 in the auxiliary gym of the Mirenda Center at Neumann University and walked a few hundred yards to its lovely Sacred Heart Chapel. Its main aisle is inlaid with three icons. The one closest to the altar? A butterfly.

Family was the theme of this day. Some are named Wojciechowski or Ansorge or Poetzel. Others are brothers, not necessarily of blood, from Curtis Bay. Now add to them a Lombardi and a Tiller, etc.

Father Jack Lombardi points the way the morning of Sept. 25. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)

Driving from Neumann University back to a point near Kennett Square, I moved to to where I should have been from the start, the back of the pack. Up front, I had just been getting in the way of Father Jack Lombardi, who has trained his pilgrims in military maneuvers, halting and warning traffic, walking in double-time.

Paula Tiller, with Clara Milstead, had a horse eating right out of her hand. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

We were on secluded country roads in the Brandywine Valley, with little traffic, where grazing horses would trot to the fence and sate their curiosity. A radio reporter from Philadelphia found us on the road. Jorge Ribas of the Washington Post walking with us and toting a video camera, blended in and became an afterthought. The through-walkers soldiered on while most hopped into support vans and headed to Chik-fil-A near Glenn Mills for a lunch of significant import.

En route there, neither Father Jack or I were riding shotgun in a support van, and the caravan missed its turn, delaying a radio interview WBAL-AM had scheduled for me. Never mind that it was being taped; I was in full Tasmanian Devil mode. At the Chik-fil-A, Paul Tiller came after me like one of my brothers from Church Street or Curtis Bay, to rightfully read me the riot act. While I was out back, waiting for WBAL to call, Paul came to me to shake hands, his wife, Paula, having read him the riot act. I blew off his outstretched hand. Instead, we hugged, like the brothers that we have become.

So it was that I was an emotional wreck when I visited with Mary Beth Marsden on WBAL. I asked her about the ages of her children. She has a child born September 9, 1999. I told her that I was in the waiting room at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center that day, as one of my grandsons was also born there, 9-9-99. She hit record and we taped the interview, but at the end the talk turned to sacrifice being part of pilgrimage, and I broke down, sobbing that I missed wife, Mary.

My Mary was alarmed by my state when she heard the interview. Over the phone, I fell back on Father Jack, who that very morning – no wait, was it the day before? – talked about ecstasy and its Greek root word, “ekstasis.” Until that point in my story-telling life, I had used multiple words to describe the emotion felt at the birth of a child, or marriage of a daughter and accomplishment of a son, or a sunset in Montana and the community created among strangers. Now I do. Aware and transcendent, it is ecstasy.

So it is that I have no idea if the photo below was taken before, or after lunch. Don’t know, don’t care. All I know is that Johnnie the rescue dog, in Concordville, Pa., gives kisses.

Back at Neumann University, we waited – and waited some more – for pilgrims and their supporters to come together, pray and dig into the dinner that had been paid for by the good women of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. Somehow, the wait was alright.

Dinner from Seasons Pizza in Aston, Pa., was paid for Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. (Paul McMullen/CR Staff)

October 09, 2015 05:11
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 5

How good a host was St. Cornelius Parish in Chadds Ford, Pa.? Monsignor Greg Parlante’s staff rigged a shower in a room off the chapel in its parish center, so we were able to awake without any road dust on us the morning of Thursday, Sept. 25.

Patricia Guerra, a researcher for the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, interviewed and gathered video of pilgrims throughout the morning of Sept. 24. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

We had a 25-mile drive by van and car back to Oxford, with Karen Fiallos, Liliana Abril and myself making the jaunt with Patricia Guerra of the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, a Tower of Babel ride recounted here.

Paul Tiller, Tim Rubeling and Madelyn Milstead enjoy lunch subs near the junction in Jennersville, courtesy Season’s Pizza in Aston. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

Walking on secondary roads, the scenery took a blessed turn for the better, through farmland and fields of fallen corn, past Lincoln University, an opportunity to talk about the origin of historically black colleges. A more serene rhythm was established, as the Link and Milstead girls sang a cappella, Tim Rubeling pulled out his guitar when he could, and there was less traffic to mind. Religious freedom, one of the reasons Father Jack Lombardi walks, resurfaced as a theme. During a rest stop, he went over to say hello to a young Amish man pulling a horse-drawn wagon, who requested no pictures. I deleted the ones I had taken. Later that day, the pilgrimage stopped to pray and sing outside Planned Parenthood of Chester County.

Pilgrims stop to pray and sing hymns along Baltimore Pike. (Paul McMullen)

A Spanish twist has been added to the cheer that got us started.

“Hey, Hey!”

“Ho, Ho!”

“Pope Francis!”

“Vamanos!” – as in “Let’s Go!”

Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment was among the inspirations for recycling plastic during a pit stop at a Wawa, a chore handled by Bob Williams and Mary Bergin. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

The Holy Father is never far from our thoughts, and his encyclical on the environment had us stop at the Wawa before Avondale to recycle plastic water bottles, trays from lunch, etc. In Avondale, most of us piled into vans for the drive to the very green campus of Neumann University, an exhaling ride that led to a hilarious comeuppance from young Joe Snyder.

Dinner was paid for by Loyola University Maryland in the Neumann student dining hall, where there were other reminders of home. Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia Patricia Hutchison, the director of the university’s Institute of Franciscan Studies, was a teacher and administrator in the 1970s, first at St. Joseph School in Fullerton, then at St. Anthony of Padua, when Gardenville had a thriving parish school and an assistant pastor who would go on to become Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly.

Father Jack Lombardi and pilgrims take in a volleyball match against Cabrini College at Neumann University’s Mirenda Center. (CR Staff/Maureen Cromer)

October 08, 2015 11:41
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 4

As hard as it is to cull his canon, my favorite Willie Nelson song is “Still Is Still Moving To Me,” an ode to the curious mind that never stops. It describes the pilgrimage’s first two nights, as I did not get a wink of sleep in Parkville or Bel Air. Fatigued, wrung out and after losing my composure or having to walk back some inane pronouncement, I would find Father Jack Lombardi and stand next to him. Often, I would ask him to pray for me. Other times, he would sense my anxiety and contrition, and recite, slowly and in a voice just above a whisper, the following:

“Calm the mind. Breathe in the Divine.”

That intercession, a new air mattress delivered by my wife, Mary, to John Carroll Sept. 21 and private quarters in a small storage room at St. Agnes in Rising Sun, courtesy of Tony Antenucci, allowed me to awake refreshed the morning of Sept. 23. It was literally no walk at all to Mass on the Feast of Padre Pio. Father Jack was barefoot, as was most of his congregation. He spoke of removing all the stuff and junk we accumulate, and simplifying our lives.

“We’re in a bubble for a week,” Father Jack said. “You have a choice, to live a life of simplicity.”

The breakfast crew at St. Agnes in Rising Sun included Jack Scarbath, second from left, a University of Maryland football great in the early 1950s. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

After breakfast, he piled into a van and drove back to Conowingo Dam, leading roughly a third of the pilgrims on a seven-mile morning stretch that brought them right back to St. Agnes. I visited with Karen Fiallos and Liliana Abril, who represented Sacred Heart Glyndon and archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry well.

Liliana was among the weary getting first aid from Deacon Luke Yackley, who worked for the VA for 31-plus years. An Illinois native, he was a seminarian in Baltimore when his discernment turned him in another direction. Attending a show at the old Club Venus in February 1973, he met a young woman named Terri. Two months later, they were married. They are the parents of four and the grandparents of 12. The man who married them, Vinnie Quayle, followed a similar path, leaving the priesthood, founding the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, marrying and raising a family in Northeast Baltimore. He and I were fellow parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in Mayfield. His son, Paul, went to its parish school with my daughter, Kate. One of the guys serving us breakfast, Jack Scarbath, grew up in that parish. Again, you can’t make this stuff up.

Megan Kinsella Quaranta (kneeling, left) was among the support van drivers who shepherded pilgrims over the Mason-Dixon Line. The youth minister at St. Mark Fallston is pregnant, in her second trimester. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

While Father Jack was busy walking, I schemed the afternoon route, which did not work. Yes, it took us to a great photo op at the Mason-Dixon Line, but on the other side, Pennsylvania doesn’t allow motorists on the divided highway that is Route 1. For several hours, we walked illegally, under a brilliant, cloudless sky, but to the constant hum of 60 MPH traffic. My bad.

Pilgrims heard plenty of drivers honking their horns in support, but didn’t get many chances to distribute prayer cards along Route 1 in Pennsylvania. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)  

The morning was not a total loss, however, as Father Jack had borrowed a papal flag from St. Agnes. For the rest of the pilgrimage, it waved alongside the American flag brought by Mary Bergin, one that has its own story. Before she joined Father Jack’s inaugural Fortnight for Freedom walk from Hancock to Baltimore in 2012, Mary’s father bought her a flowing, in her words, “American Flag scarf at Gettysburg to wear around my neck. On the walk the boys used it as a cape, saying they were Captain America. The boys found a piece of bamboo and turned it into a flag. They then took turns holding it.” Mary’s father died earlier this year, but a piece of him was with her every step of the way. In the following video, Joe Snyder is carrying the papal flag, James Tiller the American flag.

Reaching the Pennsylvania town of Oxford, Pa., we hopped in support vans for a 25-mile drive to our night’s lodging, at St. Cornelius in Chadds Ford. When we arrived, it was in the process of moving hundreds of pilgrims from the Diocese of Boise into guest homes. Monsignor Greg Parlante found quarters in the rectory for Father Jack, and allowed me to turn the pastor’s meeting office into the Catholic Review MoJo (mobile journalist) suite for the night.

I wrote until midnight, but was soon fast asleep, to the following: 

“Calm the mind. Breathe in the Divine.”

Monsignor Greg Parlante offered the pastor’s meeting space, which was turned into a mobile office and sleeping space. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

October 07, 2015 05:38
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 3


Father Jack Lombardi worked the traditional Hindu greeting into 7:45 a.m. Mass in the chapel at The John Carroll School Sept. 22. It was in deference to Kishan Patel, the online editor in chief of The Patriot, the school newspaper. He is American-born but with roots in India, a continual reference in the homily. Father Jack talked of Paul Tiller and other pilgrims joining him on a mission to Kolkata, where they rested in a Jesuit residence and witnessed the love and mercy of Blessed Teresa. Quoting her, Father Jack said, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth.” Another diamond arrow to the brain from Father Jack’s homily: “Catholic Church is a verb, and a noun. Church is not here to ossify us. It is here to turn us into saints.”

I had rousted him from his sleeping bag, in the weight room in the lower gym, at 5:20 a.m. or so. We were due in 40 minutes for a live stand-up spot with Ron Matz and WJZ Channel 13. Ron and Father Jack nailed it, as did John Carroll students Gabe Webster and Megan Piercy. There was a rousing bagpipe sendoff courtesy of Andrew McIntyre, a John Carroll math teacher, and less than a mile later, greetings from the entire student body of St. Margaret School.

Father Jack Lombardi and other pilgrims pause to pray in the St. Ignatius chapel that dates to 1792. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

Behind schedule when we got to St. Ignatius Hickory, I blew through the oldest church in continuous use in the archdiocese, committed to the notion that every step of the walk to Philadelphia be covered by someone. While most exhaled and then piled into vans for a few miles, I schemed with Tony Antenucci to walk the 7.9 miles to the lunch rendezvous. Bob Williams wanted in, and so did Mary Bergin. Glad I stopped being selfish and said yes.

Mary was one of the subjects of the Amen in our Oct. 1 issue. Tony is a friend of Ann Augherton, the wife of Chris Gunty, my boss. Thanks, Ann. When I needed to rant, I ran to Tony. He was born in the New York borough of Brooklyn. I went to parochial school in Baltimore’s Brooklyn, at St. Rose of Lima. He answered my blather right back. Bob is a character from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who used to be involved in choir ministry at St. Timothy in Walkersville when he and his wife, Eun Ya, lived in Frederick County. They are a combined 134 years young. Bob brought his guitar and the assorted homeopathic cures that keep them moving. I think he would approve of my wife’s cure for the common cold, buckwheat honey.

Tony Antenucci, Mary Bergin and Bob Williams, on the road from Hickory to Darlington Sept. 22. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

We had a fifth companion tracking us on bike for the next few miles. In Hancock a few weeks earlier, Cecilia Herman met Father Jack by chance and vowed to see him in Bel Air, if not sooner (she picked us up just past Fallston Sept. 21, and joind us for morning Mass Sept. 22). A parishioner of St. Margaret, she has resided in Harford County since 1988. Cecilia was raised in Roland Park and at the Cathedral parish, but had many ancestors baptized at the Basilica, so the pilgrimage resonated with her from its start. She shared the following in an email.

“It has been obvious that the pilgrims were sharing a message during their walk – that was felt by me when in their presence and I know how lucky I was to be among this. I was thankful to have been in their presence and have it spill over to me during my short time with them. It was a sad feeling when it was necessary to leave after taking this bike ride alongside (them), but the blessing that was given me upon the departure, I took with me on the return ride – and it had deep meaning.”

I wrote about other serendipitous meetings that day and the next here.  What that article doesn’t mention is that Marilyn Pare drove me to the Rising Sun library the night of Sept. 22, where her friends pointed me to the quiet room and a blessed hour of Internet connectivity that had my laptop, Maureen Cromer’s mini-tablet and my phone all humming.

Father Jack gives a thumbs-up to the welcome of Father Henry Kunkel, pastor of St. Mary Pylesville, and others at St. Agnes in Rising Sun. (Courtesy Paula Tiller)


October 06, 2015 05:25
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 2

The Knights of Columbus from St. Ignatius Hickory provide a fine roadside lunch. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

“Thank the chicken.”

“Thank the farmer who grew the grain that fed the chicken.”

“Thank the truck driver who… “

Paula Tiller used those words and more to slow me Sept. 21 at the Route 1 parking lot leading to the hiking trails at the Big Gunpowder Falls north of Perry Hall. The Knights of Columbus, Council 9279, from St. Ignatius Parish in Hickory set up tables and a buffet of Royal Farms fried chicken and sides. I filled a plate, sat down next to Paula and one of her boys and inhaled a chicken leg in less time than it took a young Haloti Ngata to get to the quarterback. I took no time to chew – let alone taste – the food we had just given thanks for. An inner voice led me to ask Paula to help me slow down. After she did, and I was able to listen, lunch was quite enjoyable.

But not for long, as the mind kept racing ahead, while simultaneously attempting to process what had already unfolded on a 16.2-mile day.

There was the send-off at St. Ursula School in Parkville and the serendipitous pit stop at the Schimunek Funeral Home. Nearly two years after writing about one of my mentors, Bob Doerfler, I ran into one of his sons-in-law, Tim Burdyck, who works for Schimunek. We could not have been dressed any differently, except for our matching “Doerfler Strong” bracelets. Wore mine every step of the way, from the Basilica to the papal Mass in Philadelphia, to home.

I am a creature of deadline, and Father Jack’s pilgrims are trained to stop and evangelize, every step of the way. I kept pushing to make time, and they kept darting off the road to share one of the Feet for Francis prayer cards designed by Sara Goldscher, senior graphic designer for Catholic Review Media.

Nearly four miles after lunch, I distributed some during a restroom break at the Horseshoe Pub in Kingsville, where some of the regulars nursing afternoon beers recognized our yellow T-shirts from the previous night’s news. It would be days, however, before I turned over one of those prayer cards and read the pilgrimage prayer from St. Francis de Sales, patron not of pilgrims, but of journalists. It reads:

“Do everything calmly and peacefully. Do as much as you can as well as you can. Strive to see God in all things without exception, and consent to His will joyously. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to Him in word and deed. Walk very simply with the Cross of the Lord and be at peace with yourself.”

That peace was easy to find at John Carroll in Bel Air, two days after I had dropped off provisions at the high school and did some scheming with Gary Meyerl, the campus minister. We had never met, but developed a rapport in about 90 seconds. A North Carolina native, his first experience in the Archdiocese of Baltimore was as an undergrad at what is now Loyola University Maryland. He’s been on the staff at Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall and Sacred Heart Parish in Glyndon; served as the principal of the former Cardinal Gibbons School; and as an administrator for the National Catholic Educational Association. The two youngest of his three daughters were John Carroll students when he went to work there in 2014. One of the best conversations I shared on pilgrimage was the night of Sept. 21 with his youngest, Sarah, a John Carroll junior and a very neat kid. 

Weary pilgrims were brightened by the site of John Carroll students and their principal, Madelyn Ball. (CR Staff/Maureen Cromer)

October 05, 2015 04:10
By Paul McMullen

Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 1



Got home from the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy in the wee hours Sept. 28 and had two days to put together a nice, fat 40-page Oct. 1 issue of the Catholic Review. Resting and getting reacquainted with my family in the days since, haven’t had time or energy to jot down my thoughts from eight days on the road. Rather than put them down in the journal I began in 1991, going to look back, between today and next Sunday, Oct. 11, each day over what was happening two weeks ago.
When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

That was among Maria’s lines in “The Sound of Music.” It came to mind at the Baltimore Basilica Sept. 20, when Father Jack Lombardi celebrated 10:45 a.m. Mass that served as a send-off for his pilgrims. Father Jack wasn’t getting in the way; he was helping fill a scheduling void at the Basilica, a parish still very much in mourning over the death of its rector, Monsignor Art Valenzano. At one point in his homily, Father Jack asked me to stand and be acknowledged, for suggesting the walking scheme. In a few days, I would feel not like a co-leader but more like the Wizard of Oz, the not so great and powerful who kept losing his way. More on that in the coming days.

Casey Buckstaff, principal of St. John the Evangelist School in Severna Park, right, and Kathy Hamlett, her administrative assistant, walked the first day of the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy.

Kathy Wandishin, the administrative assistant at the Basilica, and Deacon Robert Shephard helped us open doors there, and at the Catholic Center. Some people give, from dusk to dawn. The Church of the Nativity in Timonium delivered a 15-foot sub to Borders Hall for our lunch, and the parishioner doing the honors was Michael Downes – the same Michael Downes who is the director of the Monsignor O’Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks.

Finally on foot and still getting the hang of the mini-tablet loaned me by social media coordinator Maureen Cromer, I bungled videos of Jesuit Father James Casciotti at St. Ignatius Parish, and then Dominican Father Dominic Bump at Ss. Philip and James. (Maureen the social media machine was there to video us at the Review). Thankfully, mercifully, I got the hang of the device.

The day’s pilgrims included Father Jack, myself, 20 other walkers who were there for the entire pilgrimage, others who jumped on and off as their schedules dictated - and two women who had time only for day one. Casey Buckstaff is the principal of St. John the Evangelist School in Severna Park, among the best and brightest young administrators in the archdiocese (sorry about the Clemson-Notre Dame football score, Casey). She and her administrative assistant, Kathy Hamlett, walked with us, from the Basilica to St. Ursula in Parkville. A co-worker was waiting there, to get Casey to a college class. I asked Casey to share her thoughts, on why she spent a precious day off with us. She sent the following at 10:38 p.m. that night:
Hi Paul,
Finally walked in my door and thinking of you all there at St. Ursula. Thank you for allowing us to share this first day with you. As I think about the time walking through the city, considering the people who saw us along the way, those who saw the yellow shirts moving through their neighborhoods and along sidewalks they walk each day, my heart is excited. As a school leader, I count it as one of my biggest responsibilities and greatest blessings to model my Catholic faith for the children in my care. Being a pilgrim along a spiritual journey is who we are each day, and being a pilgrim on a journey to join thousands more was a beautiful gift to share, with you all and for my students. It is a way to live my own faith and to reflect on our shared faith as a larger church. It is a way to connect the heritage of pilgrimage, of tradition, with the hope and joy we carry forward as Catholic people who are in awe of our Holy Father who is here to pastor us now in this week ahead. I wish you all many blessings along the way.
And a good night of sleep!
Be well, Casey

October 04, 2015 05:52
By Paul McMullen

No time to read the story when you are part of it

“Did you read my story?”

Over the decades, I masked my disappointment when that question led to a head shake from a college basketball great like Juan Dixon or a steady Baltimore Raven like Matt Stover or the greatest Olympian and endurance athlete in history, Michael Phelps. It wasn’t until people were asking me questions on the Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy that I fully began to comprehend that those scrutinized because of their entry into the arena don’t always have the inclination - let alone the time - to read and hear what others have to say about them. They are in the moment, honing their craft or putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t need an other’s analysis of what they are doing and living.

Father John "Jack" Lombardi is interviewed by a Philadelphia radio station.

I have an urge to quantify, and tracked our daily mileages on my Nike GPS runner’s watch. On our last morning, I set its alarm for a 4:45 a.m. wake-up at St. Philomena in Lansdowne, Pa. Never heard it. Awoke on my own 10 minutes later, and laughed when the watch went dead a few hours later. One of the reasons for early reveille was a 6 a.m. spot with Robert Lang on WBAL 1090. He asked what I thought of the pope’s visit thus far. I did not have a clue, told Robert I had not watched a newscast or read anything Francis-related in the last eight days, other than an OpEd Father John J. Lombardi – aka Father Jack – wrote for The Sun.

With few interruptions, I have been working in the media since my 12th birthday in 1967, when I got the responsibility of becoming a delivery boy for The News American. The Maryland football beat for The Sun in the mid-1990s made me a talk radio regular. Books on Maryland basketball and Phelps followed, and promoting them required more talk. It is second nature for me to blather on with a radio or TV station or an ink-stained wretch with a notepad. I am one of them.

Talking about themselves and their journey was foreign and perhaps frightening, however, to home-schooled pilgrims and their parents who have a justifiable wariness of the secular media and its confusing, crass diet of Caitlyn Jenner, You’re Fired, etc. Our lone organizational meeting for pilgrims was Sept. 11, at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Frederick. I told total strangers to trust me, I work for the Catholic press, and Archbishop William E. Lori. I did not anticipate the mass media interest the pilgrimage would engender, and the leap of faith pilgrims would have to take. Some of the younger kids need footnotes to understand my calling them WMEs – Weapons of Mass Evangelization – but all came to know they were being watched, and had an opportunity to preach the Gospel, using words if necessary.

I am so proud of Scott Sainz and Shanon Pieper and Liliana Abil and others - and, most of all, Paula Tiller. In addition to being a good wife to Paul, her husband, and mothering the three youngest of her 10 children on the pilgrimage, she mothered everyone. In the absence of my wife, Mary, who realigns and gets me back in line as needed, Paula also served that function, a full-time job in itself. Paula hugged Maureen the social media machine when she needed it – and found the peace, time and strength to surrender her privacy and share her heart and soul with TV and print reporters.

Still processing the pilgrimage, and all the colleagues and friends it allowed me reconnect with, and the growth the Gospel afforded me. Gonna recount some of them next week.

Click here for a Baltimore Sun interview with some of the pilgrims.

October 02, 2015 12:58
By Paul McMullen

Step aside and open the door for the New Evangelization

A pilgrimage is not a pilgrimage without sacrifice.

For me, they have included not being able to own this story. I had unrealistic plans to walk every step of every day’s planned walk, take photos and video and write about it, but then media interest intensified and there were not enough hours in the day to do all that and fill media requests from national and local television, radio stations and newspapers. I’ve got a notebook and head full of material on the Tiller family, but it will have to wait for the Oct. 15 issue of the Review.

Patty Guerra from the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. (CR Staff / Paul McMullen)

Father Jack Lombardi can lead a line of 21 pre-teens, teens and adults, stop traffic, conduct a radio interview and pray the rosary simultaneously. I cannot. At some point this story became too big for me to own, and I needed to work the rear of the line to his front, because safety on some winding roads became a serious issue. Besides, there are bright young people joining us along the way to share it with a larger audience and further what the Catholic Church calls the New Evangelization.

Miguel Almaguer of NBC Nightly News with Catholic Review Managing Editor, Paul McMullen. (CR Staff / Maureen Cromer)

More mature colleagues will appreciate the irony of me wrapping an arm around Jorge Ribas, a video journalist for the Washington Post. For 12 of my 26 years at The Sun, my professional goal was to beat the Post, first covering Maryland football, then on Terps basketball, then on the Michael Phelps beat. Now Jorge is working a video story that we cannot wait to see. He is Jesuit-trained, having attended Georgetown Prep and then Boston College. Chatting at the end of the line Friday, he mentioned that his wife is pregnant with their third child. With that, Kevin Brown, the youth minister from St. John in Westminster, led a quick prayer for her, the baby she is carrying, and the entire Ribas family.

Jorge Ribas, a video journalist for the Washington Post. (CR File)

On Thursday morning, we had Patty Guerra from the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt along grabbing video and conducting interviews. She was born and raised in Monterey, Mexico, went to Catholic schools and has done extensive mission work. She supplied the early footage for a piece the show is preparing for Sunday night’s telecast. Yesterday that spot brought us correspondent Miguel Almaguer and a team that included a videographer whose name escapes me – it’s been a long week - who went to the University of Maryland. We’ll be hard to get to at the papal Mass, and they’re relying on Maureen Cromer, aka Maureen the Social Media Machine, to forward them selfies from our young pilgrims at the Mass.

Thanks to them, and everyone in the media who have taken an interest is this Feet for Francis/Pilgrimage of Love and Mercy.

September 26, 2015 10:47
By Paul McMullen

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