The Pilgrim and the Politician

A man begins a pilgrimage to Rome in Canterbury, England, and eventually arrives at the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard. As he walks, he carries 88 years of joy, sorrow, and a rather large backpack on his back.

Traveling from Bern to the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard is another man, who is also on a journey. As he makes his way, he carries the arrival of a new baby and the weight of his country’s future on his back.

Pilgrims walk for different reasons. Our pilgrim walked, but he did not know why. He only knew he was called to walk and was uninterested in “why.” Politicians attend events for a myriad of reasons. Our politician attended an event in late June because he knew he should be there. He didn’t pay much attention to “why.” Both men were answering a call.

Nationality separated them. Language separated them. Normal, everyday differences separated them.

Why did Brian walk? Why did Christophe attend that concert?

Perhaps one of the many reasons Brian walked and Christophe attended that concert could be this blog post and the mere fact that you are reading it.

It’s 2014 and we can be jaded and cynical. Most of us see politicians as untouchable and most of us do not pay any attention to pilgrims. A politician would never waste his time talking to a pilgrim and they certainly would not be at the same event because politicians go to fancy places and pilgrims do not.


There are still places in this world that transcend language, nationality, age, religious beliefs, socio-economic differences. There are still places that bring people together for a common purpose, known or yet unknown. There are still places where two men from completely different walks of life can be brought together to share things – ideas, music, Raclette. There are places where the sting of cynicism is made weak.

We have to treasure these places and nourish them. We must feed them with our time, with our resources, and with our very best intentions. We have to look at these places as true sanctuaries because that is what they are.

They are places where the shoes on your feet do not matter. They are places where the color of your hair, your skin, your coat…none of it matters. They are places where a pilgrim and a politician are both seen as exactly what they are:  God’s children – truly equal and worthy of unconditional love and acceptance.

We must give our best to these places and the people walking into them. Both are deserving of our adoration.

I could say many things about the pilgrim and the politician. They are two of the finest men I have met in a very long time. It is not the point. The point is much simpler than that.

There is a place on the border between Switzerland and Italy where a pilgrim and a politician sat together and shared an important life moment.

That place is the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard.

You should go there and give it your best. If you cannot go there, you can still give it your best.

Donate 5 dollars, 10 Euro, 20 CHF, or 100,000£. What is your best? Give that.

Hospice du Gd-St-Bernard – 1946 Bourg-St-Pierre – Suisse
Union de Banque Suisse – 1920 Martigny
IBAN        CH50 0026 4264 6946 8001 X
BIC          UBSWCHZH80A

If we don’t give these places our best, how can this happen?

The Pilgrim and the Politician
The Pilgrim and the Politician



Meeting Jean-Marie Lovey in his “home”

It was 2013 and I was a newbie at the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard. It was a difficult hike up the mountain and my body was suffering the next day.

I very vividly remember the next day, sneaking into the Crypt for some silence and seeing a Canon sitting in a nook playing a bit of music. He glanced in my direction, smiled warmly, and said something in French (probably the same thing I now say if I want to sing something while others around around…“Does my music disturb you?”). I didn’t know what he was saying, I just smiled. He continued.

His music was lovely.

He is lovely. And, fittingly, he is Jean-Marie Love(l)y. Monsignor Lovey was the Provost of the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard. He is not quite a big as the beloved St. Bernard dogs, but he is every bit as friendly, warm, and loving.

On the 8th of July, Monsignor Lovey was announced as the next Bishop of Sion.

I think his own words about the Hospice, written for the brochure for the Hospice’s massive renovation campaign (and translated into English by me), say more about him than I would be able to:


Welcome to the place between Heaven and Earth


The birth of the Hospice in the 11th century was thanks to the work of Bernard of Menthon, the Archdeacon of Aosta. The Augustine Canons were charged with the task of protecting travelers, and the Hospice became a haven.


Bernard knew the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard at this high summit could reach people in the depths of their hearts. Since it began, our guests not only receive food, drink, a place to sleep, a roof over their heads; but also, prayer. Bernard’s work is still relevant today; time has not changed our purpose. We take those in need into our home on the mountaintop and shower them with the blessings of God to prepare them for their continuing journey.


For centuries, the Canons have worked to accommodate the daily needs of the Hospice. They have restored, rebuilt, expanded, and maintained. The Hospice is open year-round now, providing this house between Heaven and Earth as a steadfast reflection of its bold founder. The Congregation of Grand St. Bernard exercises its mission through extraordinary grace. This is God’s house. This is your house.


And you are always welcome.


Monseigneur Jean-Marie Lovey,


Canon and Provost of the Congregation of Grand St. Bernard


May God continue to bless Jean-Marie in his service as the Bishop of Sion.

And may God bless our beloved Hospice of Grand St. Bernard, José, Raphi, Jean-Michel, Anne-Marie, Frédéric, Anne-Laure, and all who walk through the door in service.


Jean-Marie Lovey

Climb every mountain…or not – One year ago, I went to Grand St. Bernard

Today will be a “good luck getting off the couch day.” Last night, InterNations successfully hosted hundreds of people at a gorgeous venue in the middle of Zürich. As usual, I was smiling and semi-suffering at the door. In spite of the chronic back pain, it’s hard to help myself. See, it’s the people that have sucked me in. I really care about a lot of them. When I ask “How was your week?” I’m listening to that answer.

But, this morning, I woke up and felt the effects of my “care and concern.”  Major back pain lighting my back and neck up like a Christmas tree. Whatever. No biggie.

Then iCalendar and Timehop popped onto my computer screen and reminded me what I was doing 12 months ago: “St. Bernard w-” (I took away his initial).

it was one year ago that I went to the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard for the first time.

That kills me more than the back pain. I was climbing a mountain a year ago and today I can barely carry a purse. I won’t be climbing a mountain any time soon, okay. I get that. So, I can cry about it and feel sorry for myself OR I can smile and pay homage to what made the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard weekend truly exceptional.

Duh. I always do the smiling thing. Here goes.

1) I snowshoe’d for the first time and 2) I climbed a mountain over 2400m for the first time.
(BTWthose things happened simultaneously, which was not easy, AND I did it in 2 1/2 hours.)

3) I visited the Valais for the first time.

4) I drank the addictive Hospice GSB tea for the first time.

5) I kept Canonical hours for the first time.

6) I attended Mass IN FRENCH for the first time.

7) I felt truly at peace for the first time in my life (it was an amazing 2 hours).

8) I had a birthday party with plastic utensils on a wooden floor for the first time.

9) I read “Swiss Watching” for the first time.

10) I stopped a man from having a commitment phobic tirade for the first time because…

11) I told him “I love you” for the first time.

12) I literally saw and heard multiple avalanches for the first time.

13) I took a car ride with complete strangers for the first time.

14) I got frostbite for the first time.

There’s something in both of my books. Emily and Daniel are on a mountain climbing when Emily loses her footing and starts to fall. He tells her to stop, plant her feet, stand up, and move forward.

That was real.

15) I learned how to stop myself from being overcome by fear for the first time.

It was an amazing retreat from this life. I’ll happily revisit it a lot today as I am clutching my heating pad and Ibuprofen.

I was winning today, last year. That means there’s hope to win again.