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Fr Pawel Barszczewski OP learns spiritual lessons from New York Marathon

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Fr Pawel Barszczewski OP at the New York marathon. Photo: Supplied

Professional athletes, celebrities, and fitness enthusiasts are the mainstay of most marathons. But these days, among the crowds, you might even spot your local parish priest.

At least that’s what parishioners of St Joseph’s Kingswood can say of Fr Pawel Barszczewski OP, who recently travelled to the US to run the New York City Marathon on 5 November. 

“It was so loud, that at some point I thought I should’ve taken ear plugs!” Fr Pawel, also a chaplain at ACU’s Blacktown campus, told The Catholic Weekly before he began his trip home.

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A Polish Dominican who arrived in Australia 10 years ago at the invitation of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, then the bishop of Parramatta, Fr Pawel is no amateur when it comes to long-distance running.

His first venture was a running pilgrimage to the Jasna Góra Marian shrine in Częstochowa, Poland, which went less-than-smoothly.

“After three days I was so sick and I said to myself, ‘Never, never [again],” he said.

Yet over 25 marathons later, his opinion has evidently changed, as Fr Pawel found himself last week in the Big Apple, running one of the world’s biggest marathons, with an even bigger ambition to run the good race like his namesake, St Paul.  

“What is really amazing about NY is not really the place, it’s that you have more than 50,000 runners and two million spectators, and when you run through, the crowd cheers everyone,” he said. 

“You can see that different people of different ages, backgrounds, even different fitness levels, they follow the same direction. 

“This is a nice image of the spiritual life—we are different, we have different experiences in life, but if we follow Christ, if we have the right direction, this is good.”

Five hours and 13 minutes later, a pre-existing injury wouldn’t stop the priestly participant from crossing the finish line. 

Aside from the satisfaction of completing his run through New York’s concrete jungle, he came away with some spiritual lessons too.

“It’s a good lesson in humility, especially this time because I knew I was not able to give the best of myself,” Fr Pawel said.

“Any kind of pain or sacrifice is good—sometimes we forget about this aspect of the spiritual life, but some suffering is good—I offer it for others and their intentions.”

As Fr Pawel makes his way back to Australia, he looks forward to returning to his usual running trials, where the beauty of nature in and out of Sydney allows him to pray, meditate and even prepare homilies.

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