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10th Anniversary of a Powerful Film

Ten years ago, a priest set out on an 8700 mile foot pilgrimage from central Europe to Jerusalem and back. I just recently re-watched the documentary he made about it, titled “Where God Dwells: A Eucharistic Meditation.” A beautiful film, simple yet completely professional, its near silence instills a deeply contemplative atmosphere.

Who is this priest, and what was he doing? A cleric of the Archdiocese of Vaduz in Lichtenstein, Austrian-born Fr Johannes Schwarz divides his time between being a hermit, pilgrim, and filmmaker. As a young theology student, Fr Johannes undertook an “extended Camino” from Upper Austria to Santiago de Compostela. Then he continued laboring as a parish priest, along with other forms of ministry. But about a decade into his priesthood he approached his bishop to ask for a break— a “break” which consisted of walking for over a year.

Passing through 26 countries over the course of 459 days (May 1, 2013 – August 2, 2014) Fr Johannes walked 8680 miles on foot from Lichtenstein to Jerusalem and back. Why? Because he needed “silence, prayer, encounters and the simplicity of a reduced life,” he explains on his website.

Those who have (as well as those who haven’t) read Hillaire Belloc’s Path to Rome may wonder if Fr Johannes ever allowed himself any sort of transport. The answer is yes; several ferries were needed, a short flight to avoid dangerous areas of Abkhazia and Syria, plus a jeep and Ukrainian tank featured for a few miles. Several taxi rides through restricted borders were also necessary. For purists who object, I would bet that walking an average of 24 miles a day (46 miles on the longest days) would qualify anyone for exceptions now and then! Oh, and did I mention that his pack of equipment and food usually weighed about 58 pounds?

Having myself experienced the famous 21-day backpacking trip as a freshman of Wyoming Catholic College some years ago, I can only wonder what it must have been like solo. Hiking well over 100 miles in three weeks certainly gives some idea of what it must have been like—wonderful and horrible at the same time. The group of a dozen men which I was in made my experience both easier and harder. “We don’t leave problems behind when we travel,” Fr Johannes said,

we take them with us along the way. We may forget them for a while or be distracted. But if the journey lasts long enough, they reappear. And that’s when the journey offers us the opportunity to face these issues in a focused and concentrated way. But strictly speaking, we don’t have to go far for that. This adventure meets us in the street where we live.

Asked what his most beautiful experience was, Fr Johannes commented that though there were so many, “If I had to single out something, it would probably be two confessions I heard along the way. It would have been worth walking 14,000 km just to absolve these two people halfway through.” Fr Johannes went through thirteen pairs of shoes in the course of the pilgrimage—four of which were given away to the needy.

Fr Johannes planned to document his pilgrimage. Already involved in creating high-quality multimedia, Fr Johannes took over 11,000 photographs and 36 hours of video in the course of the pilgrimage. Inspired by the film “Into Great Silence,” Fr. Johannes Schwarz decided to portray the first nine months of his pilgrimage in near silence, simply taking short excerpts from footage he recorded along the way.

Whether it is the unexpected stray dog or Bedouins, the Russian highway or cave monasteries, this documentary will surprise and awe you. While not the focus of the film, Fr Johannes is certainly quite traditional, both in theology and liturgy and one of the most beautiful scenes is his celebration of the Latin Mass in the middle of an eastern desert.

If you’ve never seen it before, take a quiet hour with friends to watch this artful account of a long trek that happened a decade ago. “Where does God dwell?” is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves in every stage of our life—especially because the “adventure” of where He comes often meets us very close to home.


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