Several years ago, my brother and I ventured out to explore some of the dynamic and intriguing exhibits of Nuit Blanche in Toronto. (Some photos of that evening are to be found here.)
One of these interactive installations was a fire barrel set up in a parking lot. Visitors were given a grilled gourmet sausage and a tin mug of hot chocolate. On finishing my drink, I was delighted to see the word "MERCY" stamped into the bottom of the cup. While I doubt there were any homeless people there to receive this gift of warmth and nourishment, the notion of a cup of mercy is one which struck a chord. One of my favourite verses in Scripture is found in the Epistle of St James. The KJV translation of James 2:13 says, "Mercy rejoiceth against judgement."
It's been my practice for many years to keep a pocket full of change at the ready for any who ask. I know that this is a naive reading of Matthew 5:42, but I cannot in good conscience refuse "one of the least of these" when I have money jingling in my pocket. I've had the debates about "enabling" and so on, but this has been and willl continue to be my practice.
And now I am asking for a similar dispensation.
It was four years ago, a few months after doing the Camino de Santiago, that I first got the notion of undertaking a walking pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This blog's title, "The Way of a Pilgrim," is an homage to a classic of Russian spirituality, and in my own small way, I am trying to follow in the footsteps of the thousands (millions?) who have gone before me.
I did my research. I gradually acquired the gear I thought I'd need. I learned about the various walking routes that could lead a person to the Holy Land. I read blogs, exchanged email, met other pilgrims. I consulted with people I respect. I postponed my departure two years for financial reasons, and then finally made my plans known to the general public. And then I was laid off from my job.
That forced me to carefully re-evaluate my plans. Should I postpone again? Should I look for another job, knowing full well I'd be leaving in less than a year? Because I'd been laid off, I qualified for Employment Insurance benefits from the government. With the information I'd already gathered, I decided I'd still be able to stick to my original schedule, albeit without a financial safety net.
Part of my calculations was the assumption that cheap (or even free) parish accommodation would be readily available in Italy. I knew that Switzerland would be expensive, but I was banking on common Christian charity once I arrived in a Catholic country, travelling a recognized pilgrimage route.
To date, that has not been my experience. Accommodations in "expensive Switzerland" proved to be much less dear than in Italy, with the exception of the one night I camped in the Italian Alps and the two hostels run by local Via Francigena support groups. The catch at these hostels, and many other places in Italy so far, is that they only accept payment in cash.
When I reached Santhià, I realised that I needed to seek medical attention. A small blister had grown to an alarming size, and had gotten infected. The medical treatment I've received has been top-notch and the payments of €3.90 per visit a mere token. Where my expenses have been piling up is paying €10 per night (a pittance!) in cash every night for the past 16 nights and counting. I've had a few excellent meals in local restaurants, but most days I'm spending €6 per day in the supermarket to keep myself fed and happy.
Here's where you, dear reader, can help. While I was still planning this epic pilgrimage, several people had suggested that I set up some way to receive online financial donations. I chose not to, since it seemed frivolous to ask others to subsidise my folly. I'd counted the cost, and decided I had sufficient to finish it.
I was wrong. The loss of income from being laid off and the unexpected expenses so far in Italy mean that I will not have the means to complete my pilgrimage without turning to my community of friends and acquaintances, and their friends and acquaintances. I will be able to continue on for some time on my own, but I can't complete my journey without help. Even before I left home, many people had provided help unasked for. I have already thanked them personally.
Now I'm asking for help from you.
I've set up an account at GoFundMe to receive financial contributions in Canadian dollars.
$2 will buy me a morning cappuccino.
$15 will buy me a satisfying meal in a restaurant.
$30 will cover a night's accommodation in a modest dormitory.
Any amount you can give will be received most gratefully. Here's the link where you can help me:
www.gofundme.com/h3t6gs [Edit: My heartfelt thanks to all who supported me! This link is no longer live.]
I still intend to give pocket change to anyone who asks of me, but apart from that I will be frugal and responsible with whatever you choose to entrust to me.
If you are unable to contribute financially, I'd ask you to pass this along to your contacts. In fact, please do so even if you *do* buy me a coffee.
I have set up an account on CouchSurfing.org, although I'm not yet clear on how that works. www.couchsurfing.org/people/peterbrubacher/
If you know of anyone who lives in Italy along the path of the Via Francigena (or in Albania, Macedonia, Greece, or Turkey) who might be willing to host a gentle madman on their couch for a night, please contact them on my behalf.
Thank you, and please pray for me.