A Constant Pilgrimage Towards Father
The Crusade of Mary: an experience that marks our lives forever
PARAGUAY / ARGENTINA / CHILE, Juan Martín Palacios Fantilli. One hundred and fourteen youth from Paraguay, Argentina and Chile came home after hiking for two weeks in Los Andes, as pilgrims of the Covenant of Love. "We were not simple travelers. We had a goal and we knew we would achieve it with the help of our Blessed Mother. This made us understand the Crusade’s spirit. It is like life; during our traveling towards God the Father, we let the Blessed Mother guide us, in the strength of the Covenant, and taken by Her hand, we reach to HIM, happiness and completeness," said Juan Martin Palacios Fantilli, from Asuncion, Paraguay, who shares his experiences of the Crusade of Mary.
With the enthusiastic and contagious yell of "Crusade of Mary, GO ON!" we began our pilgrimage from the La Puntilla Shrine, in Mendoza to the Bellavista Shrine, in Santiago de Chile. We were 114 youth from Argentina (Cordoba, Mendoza, La Plata, Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires), Chile (Santiago de Chile, Viña del Mar, Valparaiso, and other cities), and from Paraguay (28 Paraguayans in total: 23 from Asuncion and 5 from Cuidad del Este) who began the crusade on January 16th and shared so many longings and dreams. We were accompanied by Fr. Claudio Martinez, Fr. Francisco Rojas, Fr. Martin Gomez and Fr. Felipe Besanillo, and seminarians Beltran Gomez (in charge of the Paraguayan group and the brother of Fr. Martin), Andres Rodriguez, Pastor Achaval, and Facundo Bernabei from Argentina and Lorenzo Lütjens, from Spain.
The first hour of each day, in silent
The daily wake up time was between 3:00 and 4:30 a.m. during the sixteen days of pilgrimage, so that we could take advantage of the freshness of the morning and avoid the intense heat of afternoon. Getting up early was a tough challenge, however, we were aware that when making sacrifices goals can be achieved and we are able "to write history". We began walking early in the morning, around 4:30 a.m., with the generosity of the beams of light from the stars in the sky. The impressive scenery was a gift from Our Lord each step we walked. The first three days of our pilgrimage we walked for 50 minutes and rested 10 minutes, from the fourth day on, we walked for an hour and a half and rested only 20 minutes.
The first hour of the walk was in silence. It was the proper time to meditate about diverse topics and to think about so many questions. During this time, we reflected on our personal ideals: how am I? Where am I going? Where is the Blessed Mother guiding each one of us? Where do I want to go? What does God want from me, as His instrument? What is His will? Likewise, it was the perfect moment in which each of us offered the Crusade for something special. Each one of us was moved by some sort of gratefulness, request or particular offering. We had our backpacks filled with requests from many people who had asked us to pray for them!
In my case, I offered it as thanksgiving for the many blessings received from the Crusade of ‘99, and for the many testimonies that resulted from that experience. It was an important motivation in our lives, because its fruits were seen each step of the way. The other reason that motivated me to be part of this beautiful experience was due to a significant step I am going to make in my life. I’ll be getting married in May, and I offered this Crusade to Our Lord asking blessings for me and Lore, to receive all His graces, to form a family with aspirations towards sanctity and to give ourselves to HIS work. Likewise, each of us had a particular offering: for school or college, for work, for relatives, for our loved ones, for each other’s girlfriends, to discover our own vocation in life, to find out what is our call in life, to conquer personal ideals, and for many other intentions that were discovered as days went by.
A night underneath a bridge
The first day of pilgrimage, after traveling for nearly 17 miles (27 kilometers), we had as a stopping point a bridge ("Puente de las Avispas"). When we arrived there none of us could believe that we would stop to rest underneath a bridge. Vehicles were driving above us at a fast speed. God’s generosity was visible: this was the only place with shadow in the surrounding area, we had no choice. We did not have any kind of comfort, running water, electricity, yet we went to lay down on rocks. When I saw the guys like that, resting as if they were in the most comfortable bed in the world, one begins to appreciate what we have and how blessed we are by having a roof, a home, bed, TV set, telephone, Internet, Cellular phone, and most of all, that we have a family to rely on. It occurred to us that there are too many people in the world who spend all their lives underneath a bridge!
Days went by and we began to integrate among ourselves, as well as the Argentineans and Chileans. After the first hour of pilgrimage we prayed the rosary, which gave us strength enough to accomplish the exhausting first part of our daily journey. We began sharing stories and jokes among the guys; nicknames started to come up within the group; we talked about each other’s activities and many other topics came up along our journey. The movement songs were present as well, and we sang with enthusiasm. This was something that made us bond even more. Whenever one of us was tired or exhausted, had a blister, or felt pain, we could feel the group’s unity, the body’s spirit that helped us to continue our pilgrimage, even when we were not feeling all that well physically. Whenever water was scarce, one would give up the last drop of water so the needy could use it. We used "ka’i ladrido"(*) as energizing food. This was the ideal energizing meal (like energy bars) so we could "recharge our energy" during our rest stops. Our daily breakfast was a potato, a tomato, egg with bread, a piece of fruit, such as orange or peach. Sometimes it varied, and we had a sweet potato or a carrot instead. Anyone would say that this was so little food, but this was enough to make us feel filled up. Besides, the first thing we wanted to do at the end of our day was to rest in order to be ready for next day. Our Crusade’s director’s theory was to move forward better in our pilgrimage was to do "just enough and the necessary", meaning to have a light meal so we didn’t feel heavy and restless. Dinner was a bit more substantial: rice with sauce, noodles or a delicious soup. Meal preparation was rotated among the communities. Then, we went to rest in our sleeping bags or tents, or on comfortable mattresses the nights we spent in the Argentinean and Chilean military quarters.
The walk as reflection of the pilgrimage of life
We were approaching the Redeemer Christ that is located at 4200 meters above sea level. It was cold. The mountain tops in the Andes summit covered with snow delighted us with their splendor. Our Lord gave us that impressive nature scene. We felt the longing to reach up to Him, who was waiting for us with open arms ready to hug us like a Father, to transmit His spirit and to tell us: "Go down, your Mother is waiting for you in Her Shrine".
The roads that the pilgrims were traveling were varied: hilly ups and downs; sandy and stony ground, we even walked on train track. The weather conditions varied as well, the cold and the heat were intense. We did not have rainy days; the Andes are a barrier to the humid air that comes from the Pacific. The roads pilgrims walk are varied and pilgrims have to overcome adverse situations. All this teaches us that life is just like that; the life of a believer is not easy, it is like a constant pilgrimage towards our Father, filled with difficulties that each of us is overcoming and going across diverse paths. Our travel is not easy, but we were chosen by God, and we can fulfill our mission with the help of Our Blessed Mother. She is our ally, and she sends us the graces needed to reach the goals we set for ourselves.
As pilgrims we knew we had to advance a certain distance daily. We had a starting and arrival point set. We didn’t walk without a planned route and the road was marked by the cross (support of Mario Hiriart) and the Blessed Mother, who guided us, accompanied and protected us during our pilgrimage.
We were not just plain walkers, we had a goal, and we knew we could reach this goal with the help of the Blessed Mother. This made us understand the spirit of this Crusade: it is like life, while we reach out to God, we let the Blessed Mother guide us, in the strength of the Covenant. By Her hand, we get to him, we reach happiness and plenitude.
Mass in the heights
The daily Eucharistic celebrations made our group become stronger and more united. The violin of Juanma Talavera gave special meaning to these celebrations, while also marking the live spirit of the crusade.
Before arriving in Santiago, we stopped at the Santa Teresita de los Andes Shrine. We all felt something really special in that holy place. The walls were filled with phrases from the first Chilean Saint, and one of these phrases said, "I will do everything the best I can to please God. I will love all the creatures for God. Sanctity is in Love."
Running towards the Shrine
On January 31st we arrived at the Bellavista Shrine. We ran the last section, since we wanted to get there, to hug Her, and to thank her. Whatever Mary gives us, whatever She does for us is greater than whatever we could do for Her. We feel it in ourselves, while we are being held up by her during moments of tiredness and pain. She lifts us when we feel down in moments of our lives, and allows us to go through the most dangerous and dark places with the strength of our Covenant of Love.
Are we crazy? Yes! Crazy of Love!
We heard the word crazy or madness on several occasions during the Crusade. Frequently it was overheard, "only if you are crazy or moved by madness could one do something like this." This was something I had been thinking about some time ago. One truly has to be crazy to pursue this Crusade, or insane to repeat it, like in my case. I had done it in 1999. This ‘craziness’ that makes you give up so many things, that makes you get out of the daily routine, demands a sacrifice, a personal effort that makes you transcend. "Crazy in Love"; this madness encourages us to aspire higher dreams and wishes, knowing that only crazy people make history. Only those who bet on their ideals leave marks that can never be erased.
Los Andes that now call us: to build a new social order in our countries.
While being Crusaders we felt proud to have achieved the walk through the Cordillera del Los Andes. To accomplish the same path that the Army of liberator General Jose de San Martin 187 years ago. Their goal was to secure the freedom of Latin-American countries, and Colonel Jose Felix Bogado was one of our countrymen who took part in that Crusade. We were moved for different reasons; we wanted to cross the Cordillera, knowing that we were like David in the Los Andes Goliath. We want to be the builders of a new social order, to fight so peace, justice, truth and love will prevail in our countries.
The Crusade of Mary is a spiritual exercise. It is an act that we make so we can offer our sacrifices with love. Material belongings are not enough; we should not let material comfort or superficialities rule our lives. We should fully give in our spirit in order to reach our ideals, and betting against everything with strength for one another.
We all feel there is a before and an after the Mary’s Crusade in our lives.
Each one of us is called to the greatest. With the intercession of the Blessed Mother, we can not only aspire to the highest ideals (like to reach the highest summits with Her), but also, we can achieve our projects in life. Just like the Crusade, we encountered different roads, climates, obstacles, stones, bridges, and every way is easier if accompanied by the Blessed Mother, who guides us towards God the Father and to achieve our goals. Each step we take in our lives we feel that way: in our jobs, with the girlfriend, with our parents and siblings, with our loved ones. We are instruments of the Father, and we should always listen to His will and act accordingly. If the Blessed Mother is with us, everything is much easier.
We all feel that there is a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ Mary’s Crusade in our lives. Today, the spirit of the Crusade makes us strive to live with the same plenitude as we experienced during those days. It is not easy, we have come back to our daily routine, and now is when we should play all our bets to reach or achieve our dreams and ideals.
We are moved by a firm conviction, guided by the Blessed Mother we continue with the eagerness to build a better world.
"The experience as a Crusader is something that marks with fire the lives of every one of us. We should live that experience daily."
Translation: Vera Gamez, Austin, Texas, USA/ Paula Dudgeon, USA
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