The best thing about wearing the habit on the trail is the silent way I can evangelize to people, not just the people in my group. But also the porters, the guides, and those people that we meet along the way (and there are a lot of them). Believe me, this makes wearing the habit worth it in every way, even though it is sometimes a pain, it always gets in the way, and that it gets filthy.
I recall on a 50-mile Boy Scout hike a couple of years ago I was fretting about the visible cleanliness of the habit to one of the dads. He said to me, point blank, “You know, your habit is a lot less visibly dirty than you think it is.” I really needed to hear that. While the dirt and grime does get to me, it’s really a function of pride. Hardly anyone cares (except me), and the fruit that it bears cancels all the negatives.
On this trek alone I’m surprised by the attitude of the porters and guides of my own company. While not all of them are Catholic they treat me with much respect and have watched on with wonder as I confect the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Many Tanzanians have passed by and have spoken out loud, “Jesus Christus,” folding their hands or making the sign of the cross.
On the fifth day one of the guides of a different group came up to me and asked me if I was Catholic. He did not recognize my habit (because Dominicans have no presence in Tanzania, only in Kenya to the north). But he did recognize my rosary. He told me, “Did you know that it’s Sunday?” I replied that I knew and that I would be having a Mass at the next camp at 4:00p and that he was welcome to come. Three more followed suit. I was delighted!