Bargaining for Altar Cloths in Bosnia

So here we are, traversing the Atlantic once again, having bid a fond farewell to the old sod only moments ago. Our trip home has begun. There is something about this return journey that never fails to stir within me a bit of melancholy as we leave the striking beauty of Ireland to head to the equally striking beauty of Branch. The first time we spread our wings and ventured out into the world on one of these trips, we enthusiastically decided to document every moment of that journey with our then massive high tech video camera. That trip, to Ireland, consisted mostly of churches and cemeteries. When we returned home to family and friends excited to see our pictures, they asked, “Where are the castles?” Thirteen years later not much has changed. Our trips, big or small, simply revolve around two things, also big and small, exploration and food. Because of our tendency to search out cafes and Churches, we often tend to forget about the more well known sites and sounds that often define a place. We went to Paris. No Louvre museum. England. Didn’t see Buckingham Palace. Rome. Forgot about the Pantheon until Nora reminded us when we got home. What I do remember about Paris is arriving late at night by train, excited but starving as we ran across a bustling street into McDonald’s for a familiar feed. Later that night, we jumped on the subway only to find an old man playing an achingly nostalgic tune on the accordion. In England, we found a last minute cheap hotel in Kings Cross and ordered room service- sausages and mashed potatoes to fuel us after a full day of walking. And in Rome, we found the most beautiful moments of quiet peace not at the Vatican but in a smaller Church just down the road. Even now we count unplanned stops at side of the road gas stations or wandering around foreign grocery stores as top travel experiences. It’s not that we purposely forget about these great wonders but we also don’t seek them out. So now as we make our way from Dublin to Branch, I’ve been thinking about the defining moments of this trip; from England, Bosnia, Croatia and Ireland. There’s one that stands out vividly. One sunny afternoon, myself and Chris and Fr. Peter visited the holy Apparition Hill in Medjugorje. After we visited the place where our Blessed Virgin had appeared, we walked down the hill onto a long dirt road. The sun was hot, forcing us to walk slowly and deliberately. As we walked, we came across a series of stalls, small tables adorned with religious items and clothes lines full of linens and lace and table cloths blowing gently in the warm breeze. Fr. Peter saw a snow white cloth that he thought would serve as a beautiful altar cloth in Kilkenny. As he examined the cloth, an old woman appeared, her hair pinned in a high bun, her face weather beaten and warm. As she and Fr. Peter discussed possible prices, their languages swirling around and meeting in the middle just long enough for a price to be agreed upon, a gust of wind blew past us, stirring up a cloud of dust around us. In that moment, I thought, “We are in Bosnia. We are in Bosnia on a dirt road and Fr. Peter is bargaining for altar cloths.” Each journey we take in life is marked by these little insights, awakenings, big and small. The great Irish thinker and writer John O’Donohue said it well, A journey can become a sacred thing May you travel in an awakened way Gathered wisely into your inner ground That you may not waste the Invitations Which wait along the way to transform you.

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