Sun, Apr 12, 2009 - Page 14 News List

'God's donkey'

While Jesus carried his cross from Jerusalem to Golgotha, Arthur Blessitt went one better and took his across every nation in the world

By Electa Draper  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DENVER

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Arthur Blessitt has walked across every nation, territory and island group on the planet — 61,319km, enough to hold the Guinness book world record, although the record keeper doesn’t really have a category for what Blessitt did.

He walked all that way between 1969 and 2009, with a heavy wooden cross resting on his shoulder.

A small wheel attached to the bottom of the cross helped Blessitt roll it across seven continents, through Middle Eastern war zones, over Antarctic ice and through South American jungles.

Of all the places Blessitt has been, he was probably most surprised to find himself on a red carpet in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last month for the premiere of the Matthew Crouch documentary about his journey, called The Cross.

“That’s as much a miracle as anything,” said Blessitt, 68.

However, Blessitt’s own photo collection contradicts the notion that celebrity was an unlikely destination.

In one photograph Blessitt prays next to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In it, Arafat, a Muslim, smiles and clutches a small wooden cross, a gift from Blessitt.

Blessitt is also shown exchanging pleasantries with Pope John Paul II, trudging through violence-torn Northern Ireland with an onlooker, the Reverend Billy Graham.

Blessitt was arrested in a mob scene in Spain, where, he said, other ministers, priests and ordinary citizens rallied to hold his cross aloft after his forced removal from the Plaza Major in Madrid.

He and his cross appear in photographs with smiling soldiers, some flashing peace signs, from Lebanon to Israel.

“Sometimes you walk into a country and they put you in jail,” Blessitt said. “Sometimes you meet the president.”

He never arranged visits with famous people, he said, and yet, the famous flocked to him.

Blessitt has prayed with rock legends Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. He also has prayed with little known, remote tribesmen.

“I don’t follow Christ because of anything I get from it,” Blessitt said. “I love God and I love people.”

He was nearly always accepted and often offered warm hospitality, wherever he went with his cross.

He was sometimes ignored. He also experienced ridicule and menace.

His closest call perhaps came in Nicaragua, where militants held guns to his head. He recalls frantically clawing at a box of Bibles so he could die with the Good Book in his hand. Then he decided to pass them out, but when he looked up, the soldiers were prostrate on the ground. Then they jumped up and ran away, as if terrified, he said.

“That was a miracle,” Blessitt allowed. He doesn’t know exactly what happened. “God chose to preserve me.”

The logistics of marching across the world with a giant wood and metal cross are tedious and mind-boggling, from checking it, tucked into a ski bag, at countless airports, to hauling it in the two Land Rovers worn out by the Blessitt family.

Checkpoints and roadblocks in militarized zones were, of course, problematic — try doing the paperwork for a visit to North Korea or Saudi Arabia, when it was closed to tourists, and where activity by Christian churches is forbidden. He walked the countries of the former Soviet Union in the weeks after its collapse.

If you ask Blessitt how he sees himself, he says, “All I’ve been is God’s donkey.” He is “obedient.”

Blessitt’s journey started in the farm fields of Mississippi, where his father had him lug water to workers. He said he heard Jesus’ voice guiding him in the fields, sometimes, it seemed, erratically, but always “teaching me to listen to him.”

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