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



The Hospice of Grand St. Bernard

Written at 2AM on June 29th at The Hospice of Grand St. Bernard

High on the mountain, just next to the official border between Switzerland and Italy, which is in a lake, sits the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard.

This weekend celebrated a great many things: the Treasury, the Collège Chapittet, the renovations underway to save the Hospice from dilapidation and decay. Read it clearly: complete closure. After 1000 years of service. Because that will happen someday soon if the Hospice is not saved. (PLEASE donate: Hospice du GSB- Union de Banque Suisse-1920 Martigy- IBAN CH50 0026 4264 6946 8001 X – BIC UBSWCHZH80A)

Moving on, I think it is safe to say, many of those who gathered this weekend did not know each other. Many people who crossed the threshold of the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard this weekend were strangers to each other. It’s just normal. What is not normal is the outcome.

They left as part of a family: the ever-growing, all-loving Hospice family.

Even for those of us, like me, who are veterans – it’s always a new family, you see? New faces, new stories, new names. Every day, the Hospice family is re-energized by “newness” and it is through this heart that the Hospice will always give warmth and light, even when it is a time of darkness or cold.

Pilgrims (like Brian) embrace physical endurance testers (like Mr. X from Vaud). Canons, deacons, and oblates break bread (or cheese) with Switzerland’s in-the- valley-working folks. Others are seeking peace and encounter someone in direct service (like Jackson). At the Hospice, we all fight for the same thing: peace. Peace not only for ourselves in this moment. Peace for all who are in need.

Because we are family. We are all the Hospice of Grand St. Bernard family and now we have new additions in Jackson and Alex, who contributed so much to make this weekend’s concerts happen. Hospice angels.

God bless José, Frédéric, Anne-Marie, Raphaël, Pascal, Jean-Michel, L, Anne-Laure, Christophe and the Campaign committee, Raphaëlle, Annick and Stefan, and many others. We all use our gifts to support the Hospice. That’s what we do.

I wish everyone could be lucky enough to join this family. It is a family that will never let you fall.

Opening notes of "Snow"

On a personal note:

It’s hard to point to a favorite moment, but I think the moment José laid eyes on me when I arrived was one of the best moments in my life. No one has ever been so happy to see me and let me know it. HUGE smile, eyes dancing, big bear hug. José – ich bin deine Schutzengeli und immer so.

Jackson Henry at the Hospice is too much goodness to handle. Seeing his feet walk out of the Customs door after over a decade of geographical distance is something I cannot explain. Jackson is one of my top five favorite people on the planet – he is my soul’s twin brother.


Hospice of Grand St. Bernard

1049. Anyone remember what you were doing? The Hospice du Grand St. Bernard was born in 1049.

The printing press was invented ca. 1440. The telephone in 1876 and the light bulb shortly after that. Penicillin in 1944. Apple Macintosh was invented in 1984. Charlie Loh was born in 2002. I mention these things to point out just how many years the Hospice has on most of us.

The Hospice du Grand St. Bernard is a pilgrimage site. It is the meeting place for pilgrims on a physically-exhausting journey (the Via Francigena “Canterbury to Rome”). They have found evidence linking Grand St. Bernard to the Bronze age and the road truly dates back to the Roman Empire. The modern day Hospice du St. Bernard was named for Saint Bernard of Menthon. The original intent, as I understand it, was to protect the treacherous pass from bandits and to provide shelter to those passing through Switzerland into Italy via the Alps (or vice versa).

Why is she writing about this?

Because. In “Before You,” Emily and Daniel don’t go to Simplon. They go to the Hospice du Grand St. Bernard. I was encouraged to change the name and I’m correcting that mistake. There is no reason to hide the name of this amazing, spiritual place. I am proud to say that GSB is one of the many spots in Switzerland I have found where people are accepted as they are to find shelter, warmth, and peace. God bless GSB.

The St. Bernard dogs? They saved countless lives. The canons living at the Hospice would brave horrible conditions with the dogs to save those caught in the snowstorms. These calm, docile creatures have chests bigger than most people I know. I was amazed to see footage of them in snow. They, quite literally, swim through the snow. Saving lives. The Canons serving the congregation and pilgrims at GSB? They save lives, too. They saved mine.

The Canons, the pilgrims, and the volunteers all work together to create a place where God is center stage. Yes, we keep Canonic order at GSB, but the God we pray to is a universal God. A loving God. We sing Taize, we eat together at a communal table. Much to my shock (I literally had to leave), most people eat, sleep, and yes undress in communal rooms. GSB is a place of peace, of reflection, of rest, of humility.

Of service.

On March 2nd in Zürich, I will sing a benefit recital (my collaborative pianist is Dorothy Yeung) to help raise funds for the campaign to keep GSB “serving” for centuries to come. If you feel so inclined, donate to the account below. Donate generously. We are all pilgrims.

We all need saving. Even the place that quietly and humbly serves so many.DSC01829

Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard
CH – 1946 Bourg-Saint-Pierre
Tél + 41 27 787 12 36
IBAN: CH50 0026 4264 6946 8001 X