Sunday, July 4, 2010

Living rocks

Happy Independence Day!

No such celebration in Switzerland, of course, but it was still a fine day. This morning I accompanied 86-year-old Fr. Luzius (first photo) on a hike to a mountain chapel where he said Mass.

We were in the Hoch-Ybrig range south of Einsiedeln, and took the road snaking around the bowl-shaped tip of the valley up to Chaseren, located at roughly 1,600 meters, or 5,250 feet. That is about 200 meters more than the highest point climbed during the trip the juniors took last week. Today we were high enough to be in the lowest clouds and to see a bit of leftover snow just above us (second photo). Much of the range is a wall of rock that at its highest points reaches well over 2,000 meters.

While still strenuous, today’s hike was a little easier than last week’s because the climb around the rim of the valley was more gradual and we were on a gravel path. It took longer though—about 90 minutes—to reach our destination. There is a more direct route straight up the mountain, but it is much steeper and more treacherous.

The rocky hillside pastures (filled with cows) near the top of the range is inhabited by a number of close-knit farming families who live in cabins scattered throughout the area (during the winter they live in the valley). It is a rough and remote region. The road only goes up so far (and 50 years ago, there was no road). It is a beautiful area, and its people live a good, simple, quiet life (they drink from continuous mountain springs of cold, clear, clean water), but it’s not for everybody. I’m not sure if I could do it, but I must acknowledge its intense appeal.

About 70 people, all living nearby, came to Mass at the chapel. I was fortunate enough to meet a couple who spoke English; the wife is Canadian, and she and her Swiss husband lived in Canada for some time. They supplied me with much of the information I am relaying in this post. (Fr. Luzius was very attentive, but knows little English, and I know even less German).

The couple told me that Sunday Mass at the chapel is not only a time to worship, but an opportunity to socialize. The hard work and rough terrain keep most of the families close to home during the week. People began arriving 30 minutes before Mass, sat outside the small chapel on wooden benches during Mass, and lingered long afterward to chat (third and fourth photos). One worshipper and his wife brought their dog. Children leaped barefoot through the grass and rocks as the cowbells chimed with each chomp.

“It’s a great place to raise kids,” the couple told me. “Our grandchildren beg to come up here to visit, and there’s no TV.”

As I knelt in the chapel during Mass and looked out the window down toward the lush folds of rock cradling the homes of these people, I could think of no other place on earth I would rather be praising God on this particular Sunday morning.

That was my Independence Day.

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