On October 11th, The King’s Men dusted off our passport and traveled to Zurich for a week to give witness, participate and share in a genuine brotherhood that has crossed an ocean.for over a year now. My host, Benjamin Aepli and lovely bride, Johanna, along with their 8 children, treated me like I was family. I truly felt like a long lost uncle from America. Despite our language barriers, Swiss German and English, me and the children communicated quite well. Of course, Benjamin and his wife spoke very good English, but there was a genuine kindness and charity that was manifest in the Aepli home that transcended words and enabled me to comfortably adjust to the time zone change and easily assimilate to the new culture and surroundings.
If you have never been, Switzerland is a beautiful country! The landscape is breathtaking and nothing in the States has comparison when it comes to some of the vistas and views from the Swiss Alps. As equally impressive if not more than the views from the Alps, was the Swiss man himself. I was most impressed with his physical toughness..
On Saturday October 13th, we hiked into the Alps. This was a hike like no other that I have ever experienced and I have previously hiked 11 miles, with over 100 lbs of pack on my back, into the Rocky Mountains. This was back in 2006, in the state of Wyoming, and at an elevation of 10,000 feet.
My day started out with Mass–the grace would be needed for sure–then onward to the Alps. 12 men and a priest (how ironic) journeyed into the mountains that day. The organizers planned something which I will never forget. Arguably this experience, for this 44 year old ex-College Football All-American, was the most grueling and physically challenging activity that I have ever dared try. I must confess, I wanted to quit several times throughout the experience.
Here’s what I learned about the Swiss “mountain” man through this experience. He is very determined, joyful, helpful, and again extremely mentally and physically tough. did you know that every Swiss man, when he turns 18, is required to give one year of service to the Swiss Army? I like that! I wish we had that requirement of every man in the United States. Their training definitely showed as these men pushed me to my limit and beyond. Here was the schedule over the the two days on the Mountain:
Wake up at 6AM; Mass at 7AM; Breakfast at the mountain; 1 mile Hike ((with 40-50 lbs of pack on my back) up the rocky and slippery brook in teams of three with two lectures from Father Murray along the way; follow Map up 90 degree pitch to an extended hike into the more mountainous yet greener part of the Alps (about 2 more miles); stop for water refill then continue up the mountain to a grassy knoll for an insanely difficult obstacle course and test of each group’s physical and mental strength challenge (physical activities: tug of war, relays, pole carry for 10 minutes, fire man carry, human wheel barrel,100 push-ups and soccer match); Mental Challenge was a 30 question quiz graded by each group; Lunch with the quality and quantity of food tied to the success of each group’s performance in the physical and mental challenges; Lecture by me on the “Beloved Son”; Hike up a very steep part of the mountain with a horizontal beam on back (about another mile for this hike); erect and plant a cross with the horizontal beams all carried up the mountain; Sacrament of Confession offered; Take a picture in front of cross and get head lamps fixed as sun is setting for next hike to the summit of the mountain with the cover of darkness (an estimated 5 miles more in hike distance); At the summit of the mountain, Father Murray gave us another inspired talk; descent down the mountain to our lodging space for the night (about another 3-4 miles down the mountain to our housing; stop midpoint of descent to hear another inspired talk on our Lady by Ben; Continue to lodge where dinner is fondue, pineapples and wine is prepared for us; Night prayer in front of Our Lady followed by another talk by Father Murray; Meditation on Father’s reflection questions; Hit the hay bed rack at about 1 AM.
Early wake up 630-7am; Morning Prayer in front of Our Lady; Breakfast at the lodge; Pack up and head down the Mountain to drop gear at base (another 2 miles in hike distance); Ascend the mountain to Swiss Alp summer Chapel for Sunday Mass (about another 2-3 miles in hike distance); Mass followed by mid-morning snack; Descent down the mountain to base and prep for send off lunch; Lunch: Swiss Brats, rice, and bananas and Swiss Chocolate; Descend to parking area (about another 3 miles in hike distance) where gave final goodbye to the Swiss Alps.
Upon arrival home, Ben and I needed to crash for a nap prior to next evangelization activity. With approximately 20+ miles hiked over the course of two days, sleep was a necessity to recover for the remaining three talks TKM was scheduled to give in Switzerland.
My host, Ben, and I traveled to the border of Austria, Lichtenstein and into Germany for the remaining three talks. What a fantastic experience it was to be with all of the men who appeared to be very inspired by the encouragement and content of the talks. Ben remarked to me:
“I never saw men so excited and thankful in a Churchly area as with your talks. The men really needed this help!”
I felt tremendous confirmation with TKM’s presence in Europe and the need to come back again to deliver more messages relative to authentic masculinity and beloved sonship. As many remarked to me during my time in Switzerland, the vulnerability and transparency that I shared is not something that is very commonly experienced among the fraternity of men in Switzerland and with the Catholic Church communities that I was blessed to address. Not surprisingly, the men are very disconnected from their father wounds, which are just as great if not worse than here in America.
I pray that TKM can continue to influence the men of Switzerland and Europe in 2019. There is a great need for our mission and message over there as it is here in the States. Please pray for men of Europe and in particular our brothers in Switzerland, especially the Aepli family who are fighting the good fight and courageously sharing the Love of Jesus Christ and Mary to His people in Europe. Pray that TKM can continue to outreach in the places where God is inviting and calling us.
NOTE: all of my pictures that I was attempting to upload for this blog were unable to be posted. I hope to post them in the near future. They will be shared with our e-newsletter should you be a subscriber.
Mark J. Houck