Saturday 18 November 2017

Dublin wags just another cross to bear for one pilgrim

Keith Wheeler and wife Nicole at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
Keith Wheeler and wife Nicole at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

Sarah Mac Donald

He has met members of Al Qaeda and trekked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but Keith Wheeler faced a very Irish challenge when carrying a 12-foot wooden cross here.

The American father of five has carried a cross through 176 countries on all seven continents for over 30 years as a pilgrim of peace with a message of reconciliation and love.

"I am not here promoting another religion, organisation or charity - I am promoting a message of love on the roadsides," he told the Irish Independent.

His pilgrimage has taken him to places like Iraq, Iran, and nations at war including Bosnia and Rwanda during the genocide. He has even brought his cross to Antarctica. He has been arrested by authorities, and in the US state of Louisiana he was beaten and left for dead.

Three years ago he carried his weighty cross to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with his wife, Nicole, a schoolteacher and marathon runner.

Wheeler, who is in his 50s, said the eight-day trek in Africa was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things he has done. To his list of incredible experiences in remote and dangerous spots around the world he can now add an Irish tale of acerbic wit.

The patrons of three packed Dublin city centre pubs came out to greet him and in one case, insisted that he bring his cross inside.

The 57-year-old told the Irish Independent that though he doesn't drink, he was bought six pints of Guinness. A number of Irish wags chided him for "cheating" because his cross has a small wheel and "Jesus didn't have a wheel".

He spent time with the "heaps of homeless people" he came across in the capital and he also brought his cross to Glendalough and the Cliffs of Moher where tourists from places like India, France, Switzerland and Nigeria stopped to talk to him about his pilgrimage.

Praising Ireland for being open and welcoming to a stranger he said, "There is a right way and a wrong way to do it and Ireland seems to have done a very good job so far."

Wheeler said that despite the difficulties he has encounters while walking around the world, he has been treated by people with acceptance and hospitality.

Irish Independent

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