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 CNS Story:

VATICAN LETTER Apr-25-2008 (1,090 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Young man dedicates years to walk the world for Christian unity

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the church officially dedicates a week every year to pray for Christian unity, one young man has dedicated two years to try to heal divisions by walking across the world.

Samuel Clear, 29, said when he asked friends and family whether he should circle the planet promoting prayer for unity one of them replied the idea was "too stupid to be anything but from the Lord."

After he began his journey on foot 492 days ago from Cabo Branco in Brazil, Clear reached Rome and spent time April 21 speaking with Vatican officials from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity about his mission.

Clear told Catholic News Service he was inspired to walk the world not as a pilgrim but as a missionary inviting people to pray for Christian unity. He also asked people he met to join his "walk4one" initiative in which Christians set their clock, watch and cell phone alarms for 4:01 as a reminder to pray daily.

Born on the Australian island of Tasmania, Clear had been working for the Catholic youth ministry, Youth Mission Team Australia, before he set out on his journey.

He said he "caught a glimpse of Christ's pain over the broken church" after reading about people who had been alienated from friends and family after they had become Catholic.

He said seeing the animosity and divisions among Christians "ate at me like seeing a car wreck" -- it was like watching a tragedy unfold while wanting to do something to help.

His background as a mechanical engineer inspired him to get to work. "I like to see problems and solve them," he said.

After lots of prayer, planning and the support of Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Prowse of Melbourne, his archdiocese, and its former auxiliary bishop, now-Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn, Clear decided to put his plan into action.

He saved his earnings, sold all his possessions and flew off Dec. 12, 2006, from Sydney to Brazil, hoping the $12,000 in his bank account would last.

"It ran out when I was in Belarus," he said, more than 400 days later in early February 2008.

But just when his funds dried up, an unexpected tax refund, payment for a published article he had written and $3,000 worth of birthday money were deposited into his account. It turned out to be just enough to hold him over for the rest of his trip.

Clear's westward trek across the continents started in southern Brazil and headed north to Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

He had to fly across the 100-mile Darien Gap separating Colombia and Panama since the roadless jungle and roaming drug traffickers make the route extremely dangerous.

Walking 18 to 31 miles a day and resting every 10th day, Clear did not always make it to towns where he could replenish supplies which meant his skinny 6-foot-5-inch frame had to skip plenty of meals.

Once in Venezuela, he ran out of water and food and ran into a puma.

"We had a standoff," he said, but after slowly backing away, Clear said the puma eventually went away hungry, too.

From Mexico, he crossed the border into the United States and tromped through Texas, a thin strip of Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and then hit Alberta, Canada, where he walked to Edmonton in the dead of winter and took a flight to Vladivostok, on the southeastern tip of Russia, in January.

He took a seven-day train ride across 2,800 miles of frozen terrain to Moscow. Then he was back on foot from Moscow to Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Italy.

After reaching Rome and the Vatican, Clear was off to France, and then Spain, where he planned to reach the westernmost tip at Cabo de Corrubedo.

He was set to fly out of Madrid July 10, just in time to reach Sydney for World Youth Day where he was scheduled to be a featured speaker at a number of the July 15-20 events.

When his journey is over, Clear will have covered more than 18,000 miles -- more than 11,000 of which he will have walked. At World Youth Day he will undoubtedly be the one who spent the most time and took the longest route to get there.

Along his journey, Clear said reactions to his invitation to pray for unity among Christians "were varied." Some would just look away, he said, while one Orthodox Russian priest "gave me a big hug" and his son invited Clear to stay at their home.

Clear said he never asked anyone he encountered for accommodation because "it detracts from my request to pray for unity." Instead, he accepts the good will and hospitality people offer, he said.

So far lodging has ranged from "opulent," as when a priest in Casper, Wyo., put him up in a Marriott hotel, to "abject poverty," like the one-room tin shack he shared with a family of three in Panama.

Otherwise he has roughed it on roadsides, in a hammock or a tent, or, once, inside an "immaculately clean" toilet stall in a national park in Texas, he said.

Clear, his bright orange backpack, and his plastic binder holding maps and Excel spreadsheets of his itinerary have so far survived his being robbed by four men armed with knives, held at gunpoint, assaulted, verbally abused and chased.

He said his journey has given him "trust in God in all things. Even if I don't see it or never do see it, there is a reason" for the things that happen.

The experience also has stoked in him "a greater desire to see Christians united," especially after seeing so much fear in the world and a lack of love -- which he called the greatest poverty in the world.

While his walk will wrap up this summer, Clear said his mission to promote Christian unity would continue.

"I don't have much to add to the unity dialogue" when it comes to theological issues, he said, but "I do have a lot to do in the social practice of unity" and in encouraging people to become involved.

He said he has been asked to provide "a manuscript for a book" based on his weekly blog entries found online at: www.ymt.com.au/walk4one.

He said he hoped his writings and continued ministry would help inspire more people to love one another and pray for unity.


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