George Walter has met only two kinds of people in the 41 countries he’s visited in 43 years.
“Happy people and unhappy,” he said. “The happy people are the ones who know that God loves them. The others are unhappy.”
Walter, aka Pilgrim George, lives at Holy Trinity Monastery in Butler, Pa., when he’s not trekking around the globe. He has walked 40,000 miles in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, across Siberia, and has visited Rome and the Holy Land twice. He started his 2013 trek May 20, and is currently walking through Ohio.
He dresses in a patchwork denim robe, wears an icon of the Virgin Mary and carries a staff topped with a cross. He begins each journey penniless and relies on people’s kindness and his trust that God will take care of him.
“My message is very simple — God loves you very much, and if you open your heart to his love for you, you will have peace, joy and happiness,” he said.
Seeking the Lord
Pilgrim George, 72, grew up near Pittsburgh and wanted to be a diocesan priest. But after four years in minor seminary and four years at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa., he didn’t feel ready.
“I was ordained a (transitional) deacon, but my faith was weak,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “I had all the knowledge in my head, but my heart was empty. So I took a leave of absence to pray and seek the Lord.”
He joined a group of hippies feeding the homeless in Los Angeles, then a group of doomsayers in Colorado.
|On the road, Pilgrim George meets people from all walks of life. Photo by Kevin Patterson
“They were waiting for the end of the world, but really, they were just looking for a reason to live in the woods,” he joked. “When the world didn’t end, they split up, and I went up into the mountains to be alone to pray and to seek the Lord.”
It was in solitude, he said, that he really “came to know the Father’s love” and felt called to go on a pilgrimage. So in 1970, he took a freighter out of New Orleans, sailed to Spain, and journeyed, mostly by foot, to Jerusalem to retrace the steps of Jesus. He was 29.
“When it was over, I felt (the message) in my heart that ‘now you will be a pilgrim for the rest of your life and you will walk in the desert of the city of man,’” he said. “In 1973, I came into the Catholic charismatic renewal and found a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Lord had introduced me each way to the persons of the Holy Trinity, and I was ready to witness and share my faith.”
Pilgrim George went on the road to meet the churched and the unchurched. He prays and sings as he walks, and makes eye contact with passers-by. Some people along the way give him food, water or alms, and occasionally, a short ride or a place to sleep.
“I’m going to heaven,” he says when people ask where he’s heading.
In Rome, Blessed Pope John Paul II received him in a private audience, and in Ukraine, villagers lined the roads to wait for his prayers. In Siberia, a man on a motorcycle introduced him to his wife and six children.
“He said, ‘I am the village atheist,’ but he invited me into his home,” Pilgrim George said. “He was a child of God and did the will of his father.”
A matter of the heart
|Pilgrim George Walter. Photo by Kevin Patterson
Pilgrim George walks from May to September, ending his walks at Mount St. Macrina, the monastery of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great in Uniontown, Pa. He plans to arrive there Aug. 30, and will leave after their annual Labor Day pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
He’s a hermit two days a week and spends the rest of the time praying and eating with the other monks at Holy Trinity — Abbot Leo Schlosser, 80; Father Michael Zetzer, 73, and Father Anselm Orlosky, 85. He also is a handyman and helps around the buildings and grounds.
“Pilgrim George has been a blessing to our community and has been a wonderful witness,” Father Leo said. “God and Christ are the primary and focal points of his life.”
That spirituality is something that anyone can seek, no matter where they are, Pilgrim George said.
“It doesn’t matter what way of life God calls you to — married, single, priest, layperson,” he said. “It’s what’s in your heart that matters.
After Aug. 3, he will be at Children of Mary, a women’s religious community in Newark, Ohio, then will head for the community of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Hopedale, Ohio. He will then head to Mount St. Macrina.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. For a video slideshow of Pilgrim George’s journeys, visit vimeo.com/37140230, or read about his previous journeys at 421kolorae.bravejournal.com.