Hampton's Walter making final pilgrimage
After decades of “walking for the Lord,” as “Pilgrim George” Walter describes it, the rugged but soft-spoken Hampton native plans to soon hang up his worn, handmade sandals.
Walter's last religious pilgrimage — a trek across Ohio — began May 20 after friends joined him to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Byzantine Seminary in Jefferson Township, Butler County.
That's where Walter lives between pilgrimages, speaking engagements or wherever Walter feels led to bear witness to the Gospel.
On pilgrimages, Walter carries a staff with the icon-like San Damiano cross favored by St. Francis. Walter also prays aloud the rosary — in 20 languages — as he walks along highways and roads. Passers-by often stop to ask what he's doing, or to offer food, water or a ride.
Every few days, Walter talks into a tape recorder about his experiences and chance encounters. Each winter, he then writes a detailed journal of each summer's journey.
Last month, Walter visited WISR, the Butler radio station, to talk about his journeys with talk show host Dave Malarkey.
“He kind of struck me as a modern John the Baptist,” Malarkey said, citing Walter's perennial, handmade garb. “He wears a robe made of old denim that people have given him, and carries a cross on a staff, and relies on people to supply him with what he needs to get along.
“I think he has a small pup tent that he uses if he has to stay outside,” Malarkey said. “For food and everything else, he relies on people to see him and supply him.
“There's a tremendous joy about him,” Malarkey said. “He's not preachy at all ... I would say that he impresses more by example, then anything else.”
A graduate of St. Mary of the Assumption School in Hampton, Walter is the son of the late Florian and Mary Rita Walter of Hampton.
Walter planned to become a priest and spent four years at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe before he requested a leave of absence, headed for the West Coast, and “got into many wrong things,” he said.
In the late 1960s, Walter ended up in the mountains of Colorado, where the mountains' beauty inspired in Walter a sense of God's power and love.
In 1970, Walter made his first religious pilgrimage from Barcelona, Spain, to Jerusalem.
Since then, Walter has walked more than 40,000 miles around the globe, including treks through India and the former Soviet Union.
Last week, Walter used a hand-held awl to attach new straps — made of discarded shipping straps used on trucks — to his worn sandals, also handmade with pieces of discarded tires.
Walter walks with about 40 pounds of gear, including a small tent, water filter and featherweight “space” blanket able to reflect sunlight, repel rain and absorb heat. He also carries a couple grey T-shirts, two pairs of boxer shorts, and laundry powder to wash clothes in streams, plus, medication to take any time he gets a tick bite.
This summer, Walter plans to travel about 700 miles through Ohio, and expects to cover about 10 miles each day, either on foot, or by accepting rides.
His scheduled destinations include the homes of longtime friends, plus, a number of convents, churches, religious communities and shrines to the Blessed Mother, including the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio.
Walter planned to camp out somewhere near Route 356 on the first night of his journey.
After passing through Butler, Walter expected to visit a friend's family in New Castle, Lawrence County, before he stops in seven Ohio towns: Warren (May 31); Apple Creek (June 11); Marblehead (June 25); Carey (June 30); Maria Stein (July 10); Centerville (July 20); Newark (Aug. 3); and Hopedale (Aug. 17).
Walter plans to end his 2013 pilgrimage on Aug. 30 at Mount Saint Macrina in North Union Township, Fayette County.
Walter said he might spend next summer writing about a pilgrimage he made years ago — with a donkey — from Hampton to Mexico.
Walter also said he feels like an aging patient whose physician says it's time to stop driving a car.
He said God usually gives him — through a heartfelt desire — a destination for each pilgrimage “usually a year ahead of time or even two years ahead of time, and he has not given me any place as a destination,” Walter said. “It looks like Ohio is going to be the last one.”
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.