Have you met Pilgrim George?
Our co-founder Greg Haas has quite an unbelievable story about the most unusual man.
Ten Cents a Mile
by Gregory Keith Joseph Haas
July 2008 (as remembered August 18, 2015)
The economy had tanked! We had little workload! I prayed, “What should I do?” I found myself going to the Country, leaving my wife and family at our Newburgh home to maintain things for the remainder of the week and, then, to join me Friday night.
I was somewhat depressed, needing my spirit uplifted. The “Country” was the place to find that peace. Grandpa [Joseph] Ubelhor was always telling the family, “If you need some quiet time to relax and regroup, go to the Country and find that peace.” It was true then, and it is true now. God’s Country, LLC, as it is legally called now, is that special place. Many have come to God’s Country with a heavy heart, and they leave feeling comfort and peace.
This story is about how I found that peace in meeting a man that just happened (?) to walk past our special place at a very special time in my life.
I had been laying stone all week (14 hours a day) on a building that we call the Gardener’s House. Work was slow and sometimes difficult. This was built for the purpose of making sacramental confession during our 1stSaturday Devotion Retreats. I had been laying stone by myself, feeling lonely all week, with only my truck radio on to keep me company.
That night, I decided to go to 7:30 a.m. Mass at Saint Meinrad Archabbey the next day since it was 1st Friday. Unfortunately, I had drained down the battery on my truck by using the radio for so long without recharging it. I couldn’t get to Saint Meinrad unless I had a truck to get me there since its about 12 miles away. So, I needed to recharge the battery, and my only option was to jump start it from the tractor on Ubelhor Ridge. The tractor was down below in the pole barn, a long walk away, in the total dark, no less! There are no lights in this pole barn, and the tractor key is hidden in a small cubby hole where a snake had been known to hide. After stumbling my way to the other side of the pole barn from the front door, totally blind by the darkness, I reached into the cubby hole slowly…and retrieved the key. Thank God no snake this time! Eventually, I jumped my truck from the tractor and got things wrapped up so that I could go to bed.
On Friday morning, I got up to go to Mass, and I called Elizabeth to let her know. She told me that she had seen in the Evansville paper that morning that one of the monks of Saint Meinrad [Fr. Benet Amato, O.S.B.] had died and that there might not be morning Mass. I decided anyhow that I needed to go and that I would find out if it was true once I got there.
It was very humid and very hazy that morning on my way to the Archabbey. Up ahead on the road, I saw what I thought to be a deer standing in the roadway. As I got closer, I discovered that it was a person, a man, in fact, dressed in a long patched blue jean robe, wearing a small icon photo of Our Lady of Perpetual Help around his neck and walking with the help of a cross shaped wooden staff. With a long white beard, he reminded me of one of the Twelve Apostles. I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride somewhere, and he told me that he was almost to his destination: Monte Cassino. It told him that I was going to Mass at Saint Meinrad and wondered if I could talk with him later.
Upon arriving at the Archabbey church, my wife was correct. The 7:30 Mass was canceled due to the death of a monk. I got back in my truck, wanting to find that man that was walking on the road. I found him not too much further than he had been before and not quite to his destination. I stopped and asked him if he would like breakfast. I told him that our cabin was about 2 miles back down the road from where he had just traveled. I wanted to show him what I was doing and to talk to him about what God had put on my heart. He agreed to go only if I would bring him back to that same spot so that he could continue his pilgrimage up to Monte Cassino.
I felt like I had just picked up JESUS and that I was going to fix him breakfast. I was very nervous, and ended up burning his egg!
He told me that his name was Pilgrim George [Walter] and that he was walking from Butler, PA, on a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino before he continued on to another location. He told me that he would map out his places of travel during the winter months after deciding the title of the pilgrimage journey. This journey had something to do with Our Blessed Mother Mary.
At this time in July 2008, Pilgrim George had been walking special pilgrimages from 1975 up to the present, accounting for over 35,000 miles, foot miles. He even had an audience with Pope John Paul II, during the Jubilee Year 2000 because he had written a letter to tell John Paul II that he was doing a special walk to signify the steps that Christ walked on Earth.
Pilgrim George radiated with a glow that is indescribable.
After breakfast, I showed Pilgrim George all of the grottos that we had built on our property. Then, I asked him if he would like to be our guest for 1st Saturday Retreat Day on the next day. He graciously accepted, but he said that someone would need to pick him up and return him to the site so that he could prepare for his continued travel. All this was decided and worked out.
I took him back to the spot where he wanted to continue his pilgrimage. Then, I called Elizabeth to tell her all about what Pilgrim George and I had talked about. I couldn’t wait for her to meet him. I worked all that day, thinking about him as I laid stone on the little confessional above Mercy Falls (the waterfall).
My wife and family came up to the Country later that day, and I told them all about how Pilgrim George lives his whole life by relying on God’s providence for his food, safety, and locations for night time camping, like sleeping in the woods or under a bridge. He is the most courageous man that I have ever met.
After I convinced my family that they should meet him right away, we gathered up the leftovers from our own supper to fix a small meal for Pilgrim George. We took the food with us and went to find him. My wife was a little apprehensive at first about meeting him, but soon she, too, was captivated by his love forJesus and the measure by which he traveled. His presence was enough! Before we left him that evening, we let him know that Fr. Augustine Davis, O.S.B., one of the monks from the Archabbey, would be picking him up in the morning.
On Saturday morning, I remembered a suggestion that my dad had made about boosting attendance at First Saturdays. He offered $100 to the person who traveled the farthest. I smiled. That morning I knew who was going to get that $100 because Pilgrim George had walked 1000 miles to get to this spot!!! That’s 10 cents a mile.
Pilgrim George gave a wonderful talk that afternoon. He took 3 photos of Mercy Falls, saying that that number was the most pictures that he had taken in one place. We asked him to stay with us for a while. Since he had made his destination earlier to Monte Cassino, he was happy to stay with us and then to travel by car to Saint Meinrad Archabbey the next morning for Mass. So, we took him out for dinner to Tell City, IN and allowed him to shower and to do laundry of a few items. He had gotten into a nest of ticks and was badly bitten. We supplied the medicine that he needed. He stayed with us that night, camping out on our cabin porch.
On Sunday morning, we had a nice breakfast, talking more about his travels. We found out that he was going to be meeting some friends at Saint Meinrad after Mass. He invited us to stay and to meet them. Then, we ate in the Guest House Dining Room. Finally, it was time for goodbyes. We exchanged addresses and information, hugs and tears. Then, we watched him walk away toward his next spiritual encounter as he journeyed south, back to Butler, PA.
Wasn’t that a wonderful story? There are other encounters by Greg Haas with Pilgrim George, but this is the first one. Look for the stories about these other encounters in future issues of our newsletter.
For more information about Pilgrim George, check out these links & video: