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Betsy Kneepkens: Including faith in family travels enriches relationships.

With spring comes travel season for the Kneepkens household. There are plenty of events to attend with children in three different geographical areas outside the Northland. We have college events to attend, birthdays to celebrate, and we travel for sports for our two youngest. I enjoy the hopping from city to city, from one kid event to another. If I calculate the time, I might find I am outside Duluth more than I am at home this time of year.

Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Some might see traveling like this as a drag. Others, like me, see an opportunity to meet people I would not get to know otherwise, see places out of the ordinary, and dine out where the town regulars eat. As it should, our faith travels with us, whether we are in small towns or large cities. Unquestionably our travel experience is enhanced because we intentionally include our practices, devotions, and rituals of our Catholic faith.

One of these enrichments happened a couple of months ago. My daughter and I discovered the most charming Catholic figure in someone’s front yard. Perched at the top of the hill on I-35, just before Spirit Mountain, we became aware of this massive statue of Mary. This symbol of Mary seems to be watching over the Northland.

Since finding this sacred art, our family has made it a practice to begin our journey with a Hail Mary as we drive by, which provides us with an opportunity to seek her intervention for Duluth, our trip, and any needs we have at that time. Not surprisingly, that same image of Mary greets us on our way back home. Well lit up at night, this sacred art provides us with a great reminder to end our travels in prayer.

As we crisscross the Midwest, we have experienced others who, like the family with the Mary statue in their front yard, have taken it upon themselves to encourage others toward holiness. For instance, when I drive down I-39 to my son’s college in St. Louis, we will see many farm fields that have, over a series of miles, the words for the prayers for the rosary. How generous and evangelical of those families to create reminders for us travelers! What a beautiful way to turn what was otherwise a boring drive into faithful moments.

When you travel as we do, you quickly learn that there are few places in the country where a Catholic Church is not within 30 minutes of you. Therefore for almost 20 weekends a year, we attend Sunday Mass outside our home parish. As Catholics, we know the soul of the Mass is the same no matter where a person attends. However, my family has learned that every parish has a charism or character about it. We have experienced many unique perspectives of our faith just by attending Mass elsewhere. Our travels have been made more profound and more vibrant just because we are committed to having this as part of our journey. Let’s say we have been pleasantly surprised by all the difference we have seen and how incredibly alive the Catholic Church is in areas you may never expect.

On occasion, not often, I will see a country Catholic Church on the side of the road and daily Mass is going on. What an unexpected treat and even better way to encounter the Lord. Traveling is often rushed and at times stressful. There’s no better way to redirect your heart than a 30-minute daily Mass at tiny town church — always an add-on to our drive, but a slice of heaven I would not have had if I did not stop.

In a couple of instances, the only Sunday Mass we could find was at a Spanish-language Mass. Honestly, we were a bit uneasy at first, because we thought we would feel lost. However what we found was a welcoming community, pretty much the same Mass we go to each week, and delightfully easy to follow, even though spoken in a language we don’t know. What was most endearing was having the opportunity to participate in their passion and enthusiasm. The Mass to those Spanish-speaking folks was clearly a celebration of faith. If we were not living out our Sunday obligation — or, better said, desire — our family would have missed out on this beautiful experience.

Once again, while attending a sports tournament in Spooky Nook, Pennsylvania, we learned that the closest Catholic church was 15 miles away. When we approached this tiny church, I did not expect much. What I learned was truly inspiring. This parish priest shared one of the best homilies I have ever heard about the Book of Revelation. What a blessing that Mass was, and what a horrible miss it would have been had I ignored my Sunday obligation.

It seems I have countless stories about our family’s faith encounters on the road. These experiences add to the richness of our family and our faith. Traveling as a family is almost always intended to add life to a family.

As summer begins and you hit the road for vacation, trust me when I say including a spiritual component to the experience will enhance your relationship with each other and with God. I know that our family will be participating in many faith acts as we travel near and far. I also know that including Christ will make the time together an even great gift.

What an absolute blessing, and I hope the same for you! Enjoy summer.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.