I have been asked to reflect a little with you, from my experience, on how we should approach the journeys we make? I made clear when I was asked that I am no expert on “travel”, not that I’m sure exactly what an “expert on travel” looks like in the first place! I suppose an “expert” could be somebody who has travelled far and wide, or somebody who has specialised in a particular way of travelling such as single handedly sailing across the Atlantic!
I was very excited a few years ago as I stood outside Brighton Crematorium Chapel, about to go in to take the next service, to discover one of my absolute heroes was exiting from the previous service. I accosted, as politely as I could, Michael Palin and told him how much I enjoyed all his wonderful travel programmes. Before he could escape I also told him that I was a Catholic priest and had, some years earlier, worked on the missions in the Peruvian Andes and had taken, as my one luxury item, a boxed set of his travel programmes to which I would treat myself from time. He was actually quite touched and told me how wonderful he found Peru and the people.
Mention of Peru brings me conveniently to share a word or two with you about the experience of travel in the Andes. Pope Francis, being Latin American, would be very familiar with Latino travel and as importantly with the attitudes that accompany travel. For sure one of the great battle cries of Pope Francis in all his recent teaching on the environment, and very recently on building peace through brotherly / sisterly relationships (“Fratelli Tutti”), is the need for us all to SLOW DOWN and be able to value and savour life, the environment, and each other.
Travel during my three-year stint high in the Andes (2005-2008) was a very slow business. Sometimes riding a mule but more often just slowly walking through the mountains, sometimes for days at a stretch, because there were hardly any (mud) roads. Everything gently passing us by, animals, trees, villages and people. Time to talk as we walked (walk as we talked) and listen to everything around us. The great gift, so often eluding us in our modern high velocity living, being simple appreciation. Another word, spiritually, is awareness. With awareness we can begin to value and appreciate and commit to. This is another underling thread of Pope Francis (and Jesus Christ), to be aware, to value and to commit to.
When I returned to the UK in 2008 the hardest thing to adjust to was the speed of life, of expectation, of everything. Eight years ago I sold my car and used only an electric bike for three years of travel. It wasn’t exactly a “mule experience” but cycling does slow us down and help to value where we are, who we are with, and what’s around us. I now have a car and an electric bike but would always want to take the bike route whenever possible.
I suppose my simple message in this little reflection is what I have said above: slow down, be aware, taste and see and feel what’s around, and above all talk to people (gently and without pressure) even when travelling!
Fr Kevin Dring is a priest of the Diocese of Arundel & Brighton. He was ordained in 1993 and has served in various parishes, including in the Diocesan Peruvian mission.
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