From the Oxford Catholic Worker

See recent photos here

It was so good to arrive in Oxford yesterday! I’ve never before walked over 100 miles, while more or less sleeping rough for much of the time and carrying a 15 kilo pack, so I was VERY glad to arrive at this destination.

My body is very tired, of course, although it is noticeable how fit one can become in just 11 days. I walked the 10 miles or so from Abingdon, my camp of the night before, in just 3 hours, and felt I could easily have carried on. But now that I’ve actually stopped it is definitely catching up with me.. My muscles ache, and I feel all the scratches and insect bites. Remarkably so far the feet have been pretty OK, apart from blisters on my little toes and a bruise under my big toe nail. That’s probably too much information, but it is amazing how the body adapts so quickly.

I’ve been resting most of the time but have been made very welcome by Soo Tian and the other residents. The Oxford Catholic Worker actually predates the London Catholic Worker, where I know most of the people, especially my friend Fr. Martin Newell who started it. For those who don’t know The Catholic Worker is a radical international christian anarchist movement founded by Dorothy Day, which seeks to put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ in a very direct and uncompromising way. I have great admiration for their work, and am sort of affiliated with the London group, I suppose.  The founding inspiration of The Simon Community was the Catholic Worker, and Simon volunteers and workers still seek to live out the same message of inclusive community today.

Apart from Soo Tian all the residents of St Francis House are people who came to the UK for sanctuary, but whose claims were rejected without a full and adequate assessment. Tens of thousands of people are in this “no recourse to public funds” category, a phrase used a lot in this context, and which is actually a terrible short hand for destitute, without any rights, in between states – a truly horrible bureaucratic limbo. One young guy I’ve been chatting to has at last been recognized as having a genuinely founded fear of persecution in his native Afghanistan, and after 11 years (words fail..) he has recently been accepted as a refugee.

I’ve been weighing it up carefully and have decided – I think – against going to sleep on the streets. It feels too much like being a homeless “tourist” or sensation seeker. And I know I have  a bank account and home and life to plug back into when I am done. During times in these travels I will inevitably rough it, perhaps even bed down on a cardboard box or 2. I’ve already been sleeping in the woods more than half the time, after all. I wonder what other people think about this?

I will probably blog a bit  more before setting out on the next phase of the journey on Monday. That’s all for now folks!

 

Preparedness

Less than a week to go now and I am feeling some trepidation. To leave behind my wife, home and friends, work routines and support systems for 2 months is fairly radical. Of course I knew this all along but as the start date of 1st July approaches I find myself feeling quite unprepared. A bit daunted too, in truth. But even if I did somehow have the illusion of feeling prepared, it is still a big enterprise.

Other than a couple of items I have most of the kit I need for the journey. Some good boots and a waterproof jacket, an excellent backpack and sleeping bag kindly loaned by Brother Vaughan. And thanks to my friend from Phoenix Housing  Penny Quinton I have a wonderful Hennessy Hammock to sleep in.

Something about the idea of going with just the clothes I am wearing appeals. Didn’t Jesus send the disciples out telling them to take only the absolute minimum and to trust God for the rest? And when the early Celtic monks and saints set out on their voyages they considered their lives as offerings, giving up all their rights and self sufficiency and praying that the Lord would guide them where He wanted them to go. And I also consciously making the decision to give up my (illusory) self sufficiency on this pilgrimage.

But I am going to need a phone and maps and other essential paraphernalia. I’m not exactly Bear Grylls after all.. And I do have a not-very-cunning plan on the route, you might be pleased to hear. At least I know the starting point – my front door – and end point – Iona – and a few of the places in between!

On Monday, ready or not, rain or shine, I will set off walking along the Thames Path to Oxford.

thames-path

Hopefully by the end of the first day I’ll have reached The Community of the Sisters of the Church at Ham Common where hospitality is offered. Amongst those who live in the community are some who are in Home Office limbo, without recourse to state support or public funds. Housing Justice is involved in developing better accommodation and support for people facing this difficult situation, especially through London Hosting, with colleagues from Praxis, Spare Room, the Catholic Worker and others.

Much of my 9 weeks on the road and on the street is lightly sketched, for the reasons already outlined. But among the places I hope to visit, if the winds are fair, are Hillfields, St David’s, Whitby and Holy Island. Hitch hiking is maybe the modern equivalent of setting out in a little leather coracle – my way of trusting the Lord to lead me where he wants me to be. If it doesn’t go well, of course, I could end up stuck at a Service Station in deepest Wiltshire.

Join me in the adventure by checking back with this blog now and again. And if you are a believer don’t forget to pray for me! Especially that I don’t get stuck at the service station. Thank you