Father Joe to hike Italy

Submitted Photo Father Joe Porpiglia gestures to a map showing the route that is “The Way of Saint Francis”. He will attempt this journey in August.

Every 10 years priests get to go on a sabbatical. The purpose of them is to take that time to study scripture and enrich their ministerial skills.

Father Joe Porpiglia is taking his time to study scripture of course, but that’s after he spends five-weeks traversing the Italian country side on a 341-mile hike to help raise money for Gowanda and Cattaraugus EMS units.

Father Joe has been a pastor for 32-years, five-and-a-half at his current parishes of St. Mary’s in Cattaraugus and St. Joe’s in Gowanda, before that he was at St. Benedict’s in Amherst.

This is also not the first time he’s done a trek like this either, as he walked the Way of Saint James Santiago de Compostela in Spain; he completed 124-miles of that a few years back. Now he will tackle an even longer pilgrimage as he attempts the Way of Saint Francis, which stretches from Florence to Rome and hits many towns, and locales important in the medieval friar’s life.

“I’ve been planning this since January,” Father Joe started.

“Some of the places are significant to Francis such as Della Verna, where Saint Francis received the stigmata, and Gubbio, where Francis saved the city from a wolf that was threatening them.” “Francis, in establishing the order, traveled from Assisi to Rome to see the Pope at the time. A lot of these towns are places that Francis visited when he was there and there’s caves that he prayed in and have different religious significance in light of Francis.”

It’s quite a walk and in the hot summer month of August, it’s really going to test his skills.

“This is going to be a little more difficult, because there is more hills and valleys, the other walk (Way of St. James) is more popular and there’s all kinds of people on the trail, almost all the time; this trail is popular but not as popular and it doesn’t have all the relief and support services available,” he went on. “Certain days you’re going to want to bring a sandwich or lunch with you because you’re going to be walking places where you won’t see anybody. I’ll carry, especially being in the warm months, three liters of water.”

Due to the arduous trip, he’ll be travelling light.

“I’ll have my backpack, hiking poles and I’ll have the water reservoir with me and another waistpack, that’s about it,” he said.

Father Joe has been training since January for this adventure. He’s been walking roughly five-and-a-half to six-miles everyday and in the last few weeks he’s been doing that with his backpack, to get used to the weight. Medically, he is in good standing and he’s been sure to keep everything in check to make this the best experience possible.

“I’ve been seeing my doctors, taking care of things, checking bloodwork,” he said. “Everything has been looking good that way. Getting my feet taken care of, getting coaching on taking care of blisters. I worked with the pharmacist, who’s a parishioner, and she and her mother put some things together for me. I feel in pretty good shape. The schedule, of course, is open-ended seeing as one never knows how one’s body is going to hold up; there’s a lot of hills and valleys.”

As he travels, Father Joe hopes to post updates to the parishes’ Facebook accounts. He will be taking a phone and fitbit and the phone has a GPS map app that doesn’t require data or WiFi to help him out along the way if he needs it. The most important thing to him on this journey is to not rush it.

“I’ll be staying at B&B places, convents, rifugios, pensiones, places like that,” he stated. “There’s 28 segments and the five-week timeframe doesn’t count for any rest stops.

“Somebody that I talked to that had done the hike before felt bad because they rushed parts of it and didn’t take time in some of the villages as they knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he continued.

Though most of this hike will be spent alone, or with possibly one or two others that happen to be on the path at the same time, he points out that the uncertainty of it is half the enjoyment.

“I don’t know any priests along the way, but that’s part of a pilgrimage — the uncertainty. I have a place to stay the first couple of nights and you don’t want to book out too far in advance, because you don’t know when you’re going to need a rest day or you don’t end up walking as far as you do.”

To get warmed up, Father Joe, along with others, organized a practice walk that took place on July 8. The 11-mile hike went from St. Mary’s, down NY-353 to Maple Hill Road, Broadway Road and finally to the Slovenian Club on Palmer Street. He had about 25 helpers along the way and some people even joined him for a mile or two.

“The support that they gave to the walk, the party and the gift baskets that we had and all the people that volunteered along the way to make it a safe hike, those that participated and the generosity of people so far that have stepped forward and made monetary contributions is greatly appreciated,” he noted.

Father Joe leaves July 30 and begins his walk on Aug. 4., and he knows his congregations are excited for him.

“People were pretty excited, (and) were pleased to see how quickly everything in the practice walk went,” he said. “I think they like the idea of doing something for someone else and have been rather encouraging with it all.”

As he continues to prepare himself, Father Joe had this to say to the surrounding community.

“I’m hoping people will support the two ambulance companies,” Father Joe added. “Gowanda is trying to raise money to build a better facility and Cattaraugus has just found a new home.

“They want to buy video lorenzo scopes, that assists EMTs in intubating patients,” he concluded. “It makes things so much easier as they can see where they need to go. They’re very expensive, Cattaraugus has one ambulance and Gowanda has three or four and to have one in each ambulance would be really helpful and with both companies they help out other communities as well.”

Once he returns, he’ll be leaving again, soon after, to study scripture in Belgium at the Catholic University of Leuven. He will have another priest filling in for him while he’s on sabbatical.

If people want, they can make donations to “Father Joe’s Walk” Community Bank N.A. 76 West Main Street Gowanda, NY 14070.