November 1, 2013

Getting closer to God

Journeys of loss and hope lead people to deeper bond with Christ in Year of Faith

Ann Tully, right, and Carolyn Webster, recently traveled to France and Spain to walk along the ancient pilgrimage path known as ‘The Way.” Here, they pose for a photo by the Alto del Perdon, the “Mount of Forgiveness,” a sculpture dedicated to the pilgrims who travel the path that leads to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. (Submitted photo)

Ann Tully, right, and Carolyn Webster, recently traveled to France and Spain to walk along the ancient pilgrimage path known as ‘The Way.” Here, they pose for a photo by the Alto del Perdon, the “Mount of Forgiveness,” a sculpture dedicated to the pilgrims who travel the path that leads to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: When Pope Benedict XVI announced a special Year of Faith from Oct. 11, 2012, to Nov. 24, 2013, he viewed it as an opportunity for Catholics to commit to a deeper relationship with Christ. As the Year of Faith nears its end, The Criterion is sharing stories of Catholics from central and southern Indiana whose faith has grown during the past year.)

By John Shaughnessy

Ann Tully viewed the journey as a special way to celebrate a landmark birthday.

And if there was one wish that Tully hoped would come true on the trip, it was this:

“I consciously went with the hope that everything would be an experience of being more present to God—to strip away all the stresses in my life to get closer to God.”

So Tully, who turned 60 this year, left Indianapolis on Aug. 15 to travel to France and Spain to walk along the ancient pilgrimage route that is known as the “Camino” in Spanish and “the Way” in English.

As she started the trail, she was burdened by more than the backpack on her shoulders. She also still carried the heartbreak of the deaths of her mother and a special aunt in the past few years. She also felt the extra weight of not being able to talk to God as easily as she has been able to do at other times in her life.

“I just needed some time to breathe,” says Tully, a member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

She caught her breath and much more during the 17 days she walked the path that eventually leads to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

“I experienced so much more than I ever expected. I am not an experienced backpacker, but I did train over a period of six months to prepare myself physically. It was more difficult than I expected, but I never felt like I was going to fail.

“The Camino has a mysterious pull of encouragement. You are known as a ‘pilgrim,’ and you are traveling with fellow pilgrims literally from all over the world. It was a time of prayer, restoration and sometimes exhaustion.”

It was also a time when she was inspired by the faith of others. She especially remembers a French woman in her 70s who struggled to walk along the rocky and hilly terrain of the route. Still, the woman told Tully that she was determined to reach Santiago no matter how long it took her.

“She just had a sense of purpose,” Tully notes. “For some, it was burdensome, but they were filled with a joyful spirit in spite of blisters, soreness and worse injuries. Even in the face of hardship, they persevered. I witnessed their faith, their prayer.”

She also experienced a change in her own prayer life.

“It restored my confidence that I could talk to God,” says Tully, an employee of the archdiocese. “I carried a prayer list with me every day—for family, friends, people in the archdiocese. If I was having a difficult day, I’d think of my prayer list in my backpack. That was a really important part of my journey.”

She traveled 170 miles of the Camino before she had to return to Indianapolis. She plans to complete the path someday. Until then, she will continue to carry the experience with her.

“It is still living and transforming me. Your true companion on the Camino is a quiet presence—the presence of the Earth, God and the awareness of those who traveled the same road before you.”

There is also the awareness within her.

“I went to seek him, found him and realized he was not gone to begin with,” Tully says. “I really feel the whole trip was a gift. It was more than I ever expected, and it was fun, too. And I felt really good I could do it. It was a growth experience. I didn’t expect to feel that at 60. Maybe it was God’s birthday present to me.”

‘God was right there in our midst’

It would have been easy for Cathy Lamperski Dearing to take for granted the gift her parents had given her.

But two scenes in the past two months reminded her of the special legacy that marks her life.

The first scene is from the current blockbuster movie, Gravity.

The second scene is a real-life one, a moment she shared with her father when he was dying.

As she watched Gravity, Dearing was struck by two lines in the movie. An astronaut who was struggling to stay alive in space said, “I’ve never said a prayer in my life. Nobody ever taught me how.”

When she heard those words, Dearing thought of the two people who taught her to pray—her parents, Ed and Katie Lamperski.

“They taught me by the example of their own praying,” says Dearing, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “There were seven of us kids, and they made prayer a central part of our lives. It really rooted us. My prayer life and my Catholic faith are at the center of my life.”

That foundation from a couple that had been married for more than 62 years received one more boost of support during the time Dearing’s dad was hospitalized after suffering two strokes two months ago.

“One day, an [extraordinary] minister [of holy Communion] from Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish came to visit,” Dearing recalls. “She prayed with us. Dad was aware and attentive, but had limited speech as a result of the strokes. However, as the minister was about to leave, my dad prayed the entire ‘Our Father’—not reciting it, but praying it deliberately, prayerfully, directly to God.

“He prayed from his heart and into the heart of God. God’s presence was so heavily felt in that moment. God was right there in our midst. I will never forget that experience.”

Her father died four weeks later on Aug. 26, but the memory of the experience has stayed with her and deepened her faith.

“While the ‘Our Father’ is recited communally at Mass, I find it is said much too fast, so I rarely can keep up,” she says. “I sometimes purposely slow down so I can pray it the way my Dad did that day.”

An unexpected journey

Meredith Brown describes herself as “one of those people who absolutely refused to go to church.”

She offered that self-description after a period of trying different churches, and never finding one that connected with her.

So the thought of attending Mass at St. Patrick Church in Terre Haute with her husband, Aaron, a cradle Catholic, didn’t appeal to her, especially since she had the impression of priests as being unapproachable—the kind of people “you didn’t see outside of church and you didn’t talk to.”

Her expectations couldn’t have been much lower when they came to Mass one Sunday.

“We went to St. Pat’s and before Mass, Father Rick [Ginther, the pastor] is out talking to people and greeting people,” Brown recalls. “That blew me away. And during the homilies, he doesn’t stand back. He engages the people.”

Intrigued, Brown kept coming to Mass. She started to think she had found a home. She started to embrace a faith.

“We met with Father Rick about becoming a part of the Church,” she says. “I told him about my other experiences with churches. He took me as I was. It was what I had hoped for, but didn’t expect.”

After becoming a Catholic, she began a faith journey to help others learn about Christ and develop a deeper relationship with him.

“I’m now a catechist, teaching kids,” she says. “I love it. I absolutely love it. I teach first grade. We’re working on ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ I have kids who come up to me in the middle of church who want to recite it to me.

“I also became the director of the Catholic Adult Fellowship program. I talked to Father Rick before I accepted it. He told me I was very capable of doing it. He’s always been very supportive of me in my journey of faith.”

It’s a journey that has led her to a place she never expected.

“I’m a completely different person,” she says. “I have never been happier. I attribute that to my faith and finding the Church that’s right for me.”

(More stories will be shared in a future issue of The Criterion.)

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