Wisconsin monk wore sandals on England’s religious pilgrimage to Rome

ST. NAZIANZ – These sandals are made for walking, and that’s exactly what Father Moses did, traveling more than 2,000 km from Canterbury, England, to Rome, completing the route of the Via Francigena Britannica, one of the three main religious pilgrimages.

Moses, a chef baker and member of the Byzantine Catholic Monastery of the Holy Resurrection in the rural town of St. Nazianz, Manitowoc County, originally planned the long walk and sabbatical to celebrate his 25 years as a monk in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 related restrictions, however, delayed those plans.

Instead, he hit the trails this summer, covering 1,345 miles in around three months, setting off from Westminster Abbey and arriving in Rome on September 28.

“I’ve traveled all those miles and days without even feeling it,” Moses told the Herald Times Reporter. “You got up every day and you knew you had to. For me, it was a moment of intense prayer. I wanted solitude. I had all kinds of playlists and listened to them very rarely. I prayed the Jesus prayer with my prayer rope over and over. This gave me time to deepen contemplative prayer.

He started the journey in London with a fellow traveler who had planned to do the whole pilgrimage with him. Visit https://www.facebook.com/ataleoftwopilgrims to see the updates they’ve posted along the way. His partner has decided to return home on July 15 — Moïse’s birthday — to rural France. Moses continued on his way alone.

Father Moses and his first walking companion in front of Westminster Abbey.

But a few weeks later, a young American couple cries out his name.

“Am I hearing things?” Moses said he was wondering. A fellow pilgrim had mentioned him to the couple, so they recognized him on the well-marked pilgrimage route. They started traveling together.

“Most of the time we would get up early, have breakfast and leave around 7:30 a.m.,” he said. “They were walking ahead of me, because their pace was faster. We met for lunch and again for dinner. It worked very well.

Father Moïse and an American couple on their way to Rome

Father Moses usually stayed in inns or small hotels. He had to make reservations in advance, as it was the start of the European holidays and the rooms were expensive and filling up quickly. At one location in Switzerland, the rates were over $100 per night, so Moses decided to buy a sleeping bag and a hammock tent. The couple camped the whole way.

Moses raised around $9,000 for the trip by selling plasma and setting up a GoFundMe page.

On his worst day, in France, the temperatures peaked above 100 and he couldn’t find any water to drink. He had 8 miles to get to his hotel. Moses called his hotel for the night and the receptionist spoke enough English to understand that he needed a taxi.

“The taxi driver arrived with a large jug of water,” Moses said with a smile and a laugh. “I did tip him.”

“There were a few other times where I took a bus or a train part of the way,” he said. “But most of the time it was on foot.”

He chose this time of year because he wanted to cross the Swiss Alps, and there is a short period when there is no snow on the mountains. It also meant packing long johns, a down jacket, gloves and mittens to keep warm. He had kept his bag at 18 pounds. Camping gear raised that number to 26.

Father Moses takes a picture of the Swiss Alps along his journey.

His best day was reaching the top of the Alps, as it took him a while to climb the steep hills.

“It was a feat that I could physically do it,” Moses said. “It was not easy, and I succeeded.”

And he did it all in sandals.

“That’s what I was wearing,” Moses said, showing off her bare foot in a sandal with hiking treads on the sole. “As a monk, I am on my feet a lot. As a chef, I was standing in the kitchen. As a monk, I am up six or seven hours a day in church. And as a cook in the monastery, I am also on my feet. I’m often barefoot, so sandals worked great for me.

Father Moses poses in front of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

It was Moses’ third pilgrimage. He said he learned to use a “barefoot” style shoe through trial and error.

He made the 500 mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in 2014 in hiking boots and said they caused blisters.

Thus, Moses wore sandals as he walked the Wisconsin Way from the Shrine of Our Lady of Bon Secours near Green Bay to Holy Hill near Milwaukee to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse.

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These longer pilgrimages prepared him for the longer journey from London to Rome.

It will be at least 10 years before he makes the last great pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He thinks that at 70 or 75 he will have time to take another sabbatical. For now, it will appreciate and reflect its current accomplishment.

“The story along the way was amazing and we wanted to see it,” Moses said. “From ancient history, walking the Roman roads, to medieval history, to the Renaissance. In France, we walked along the roads built during the First World War.

Father Moses in front of a French cathedral

He said he learned patience while walking and thinks everyone should make a pilgrimage if they can.

“It’s not just for Christians,” Moses said. “All religions encourage you to withdraw and make time to spend with God. This deep contemplation is so important. As Saint Paul encouraged us to do, it gives you time to “pray without ceasing”.

Contact reporter Patti Zarling at [email protected] or call 920-606-2586. Follow her on Twitter at @PGPattiZarling.

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