As I walked from the Vatican after my personal meeting with Pope John Paul II my heart beat with excitement. For the story of the meeting with the Pope please read the story and see the photos on our website under “The Vatican” in the list of nations.
The road to Assisi was ahead. Also, a taste of sadness gripped my heart, tears poured from my eyes as I smiled, patted my cross and started through the crowded sidewalks of Rome. It was a cold, rainy and snowy morning in Rome as I arrived to get my cross and say goodbye to Father Maloney. He was a wonderful man. He had
arranged my visit with the Pope and interpreted for me in the streets. We had eaten together, prayed together, talked together for many hours. I had said each time that I left him. “I love you,” but he had never replied or in any way acknowledged my expression, but seemed to want me around all the time. I put the cross on my shoulder, said a prayer, and said, “Goodbye,” and “I love you,” then started off.
“Arthur,” I heard him say.
“Yes.” I stopped and looked back.
“I like you.” He walked slowly toward me as he spoke. “I am commanded by Christ to love everyone, but I don’t like everyone I love. I don’t like the way some people curse, or rob or steal or hate or murder. I love them, but I don’t like what they do… but I like you. I like to eat with you, I like to talk with you, I like to interpret for you, I like to pray with you… you don’t even read your prayers. I like you and I love you.”
We embraced. What a beautiful man, he has taught me so much. How many people say, “Oh, I love God, I love Jesus, but let me ask you … do you like Jesus? Do you like what Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies, forsake all, and seek ye first the kingdom of God’ Do you like how Jesus lived? Do you like the life of Jesus? Do you like to live this life of Jesus? Do you like God? His words… His commandments… His ways? If you really like Him, it would be much easier for us to live for Him if we like His life. Many people want Christ as Savior, but don’t like to live with Him. They don’t really like Christ.
“Oh, God. Oh, my Lord Jesus, I love you and I like you!”
I started the cross walk at the sea and walked along the old ‘Appian Way’ to Rome past the Catacombs where many followers of Jesus met underground during the first years of the church in Rome. Mike Ooten a friend from California walked and carried the cross with me in Italy.
We carried the cross on to the Arch of Constantine and then to the Roman Forum and on to the Mamertinum Prison where St. Paul and St. Peter where both imprisoned. Then we carried it into the huge historic Roman Coliseum.
It still stands in its splendor. I stood looking at the place where so many believers were fed to the lions, where every effort was made to rid Rome of the followers of Jesus… yet, there where Nero the Emperor had stood, was a cross. It was mounted in the Coliseum, overlooking the arena. With the deepest of emotions I carried my cross to where that big cross is erected and then I knelt to pray.
My tears dripped to the ground. The blood of others had wet this place. Oh, thank you, Jesus, for the faithful, unwavering and committed, who died as a witness to that which they knew to be true. Hallelujah, Jesus is alive. The Son of the living God. And my pilgrimage today is to continue that witness. Thank you, Jesus, for calling me in the tradition of the past prophets. I am happy to live or to lay down my life in Thy will.
I was carrying the cross. It was pouring rain and cold. I was wet and had sought to live along the road to Assisi much in the spirit of St. Francis, so I didn’t take a raincoat had nothing with me except the clothes on my back. It was snowy, sleeting, rainy, and windy all happening at the same time. There was no place to sleep or even to get warm. I remember the words written in the book of James, the last two verses where it told how Elijah was a man of like passions as we are and he prayed and it rained not for seven years. That sounded exciting! I was so wet and freezing as I looked up and prayed “Lord, in the name of Jesus, stop the rain, stop the wind.”
I fully expected it to all stop. In a few moments there was a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder and the wind blew twice as hard and the rain came down twice as hard as before. I stood looking up, smiling, “I love You anyway. It will take more than water to drown out my love for You!”
The Cross Stolen Christmas Day 1979 – My mind was filled with the thoughts of the birth of Christ and my own children half a world away. But I was also remembering that on this day, ten years before, I put the cross on my shoulder to begin this pilgrimage around the world. So much had happened and today’s adventure was ahead.
Mike and I had slept in a small hotel, rising early to begin our journey. My dear friend Mike Ooten was walking with me from Rome to Assisi. He walked the entire way with the cross and me and was a wonderful companion.
The streets were empty with only a little traffic throughout the day. Every shop was closed, so there was no food. I could just taste the good Christmas dinners that I had shared around my mother’s table as a child, and pictured my dad saying the prayer before we ate, then the table piled with food became ours to experience. The big turkey, potato salad green beans hot corn bread, cranberry sauce, hot sweet potatoes. Then the beautiful cakes, an assortment of pies, like apple, peach, pumpkin and pecan. My mouth watered as I continued along the highway with beautiful mountains in the distance. Ahead was the city of Assisi, a breathtaking view, like a pearl set atop a mountain. This was the city of St. Francis, where, in the Thirteenth Century, he had dared to live out the words of Jesus in simplicity. Leaving all earthly possessions, with a passion for Christ, he became a light. The world ever since has thrilled and been changed by his life, words and example.
I thrilled to the beauty of arriving in Assisi on Christmas Day. I thought surely the people here will accept, understand and love this modern-day pilgrim.
Along the roadside was an old typically Italian cafe-bar with a crowd
of about 75 men standing outside talking. The December weather was sunny and comfortably warm. As I leaned the cross against a roadside past, I nodded to the men as they stood gazing, offering a Jesus sticker to several. Without any response, I walked into the smoke filled cafe. The only food was a small bag of peanuts. We also got a cold drink. Mike and I sat resting for about five minutes, then walked outside. I stood in the doorway in shock! My cross was gone!
We looked around on the road and in the ditch, then I walked over to the crowd as they stood laughing and asked them if they had seen anyone take my cross. No one would say anything. I was speaking Spanish and the Italians could understand most of it. I kept going from one group of men to the other, but there was no response, only snickering. I noticed there was a little Catholic Chapel over by the cafe. I said, “Mike, wait. I’ve got to go in and pray.”
I went into the Chapel It was really beautiful and had candles burning. I went up to the altar I knelt down and then lay down on the floor to pray. I said, “Lord, now, you know I’ve been carrying the cross for ten years and they have stolen your cross today.” I was crying. “How can anybody do this on Christmas Day?” “Lord,” I said. “You know where it is. You saw them take it so now will You lead me to where it is and protect the cross?”
As I prayed I had a feeling I would find it. The Lord will lead me to it, I know. I went back out and tried to talk again to the men standing around, but they wouldn’t tell my anything. Then I made a small circle in the area where the cross had been and then a bigger circle. Finally I decided to go inside the cafe bar and tell the people what had happened. I explained about my cross to the man. One big man jumped up and charged out the door and started waving both hands at the men outside. He was screaming at the crowd, he grabbed one man by the shirt, and drew back his fist like he was going to punch him, then the man started talking. Finally, the big man turned loose of the fellow, deep hurt in his eyes, and he told me, “These fellows have stolen your cross. There were a bunch of motorcycles here and they l aid the cross on the motorcycles and took the cross down the highway over the hill.” He pointed, “That way.”
I thanked him and started running for the cross and praying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Finally I came to the top of the hill and looked down. I could see the cross laying in the middle of the highway with cars driving around it. When I got to the cross I knelt down, kissing it, crying and thanking Jesus. Where the cross had fallen, there were some wood chips on the pavement. I picked up all the chips and put them in my pocket as the traffic was going around me. The people in nearby houses came to me, fear filling them. They didn’t want me to put a curse on them. They said they didn’t have anything to do with stealing the cross. They said they saw a group of men on motorcycles coming with the cross. All of a sudden, the motorcycles just turned over and the men fell off. Some of them were pretty bloody and hurt bad. They left the cross and rode off.
The group of people that had gathered around didn’t want me to leave until I had prayed with them and blessed them. I got down on my knees and prayed with them and blessed them. At least they were comforted and happy. Joy filled my heart as I felt the rough, worn wood of my cross. My Jesus had given me back His cross. What a Christmas gift! The cross, an open road, a pilgrim and the world. I began to sing and praise God as I began the steep climb up the mountain to Assisi.
Christmas Day, 1979, I’ll never forget!
I returned to carry the cross again in Northern Italy and on to Venice in the late 1980’s.
It was late one afternoon and a young man and his girl friend stopped their car and came up to me and wanted to talk. They could speak English. Soon they prayed and gave their lives to Jesus Christ. Later the man said, “There is one thing I don’t understand.” I know that Jesus has saved me and He is going to keep me, but when you ended the prayer you said “Hey man” what does that mean?” I began to laugh, “I did not say ‘Hey man’, I said ‘Amen’.” Ha
Pilgrim followers of Jesus,
Arthur and Denise Blessitt