By Michael J. Johnson | Catholic News Service
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Rowing an 18-foot-long open canoe solo along the Intracoastal Waterway from Miami to New York City, Greg Dougherty hopes to draw attention to the centennial of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal.
The craft named the Santa Maria de Fatima packed with bags of food, clothes, emergency gear and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima looks both cramped and small for such a long voyage.
His 1,400-mile nautical pilgrimage began June 13 and as of Aug. 14, he was 10 miles south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, he told Catholic News Service. He also said he hoped to arrive in New York by late September or early October.
The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah, caught up with Dougherty in early August on the 47th day of his pilgrimage. He had arrived at Thunderbolt Marina in Thunderbolt.
Dougherty's canoe outfitted with tandem sliding seats enables him to use his legs and arms as he repeatedly pulls on the oars throughout the day. His planned crewmate for the journey, Gerald Sargent, a member of the British Royal Marines, was called back to active duty leaving Dougherty on his own.
Rowing on his own "is exhausting," said Dougherty, "and that is a good thing." At night, he sleeps in the forward section of the two-man canoe.
The monotony of rowing all day has become an opportunity for prayer and meditation. "When I'm alone out there I'm praying," said Dougherty, "I say the rosary. I pray the whole time, especially in severe weather."
He described getting through a thunderstorm that came through just south of Savannah.
"All I could do is to position the boat and aim the bow into the wind. My oars became an anchor, and I just wouldn't let the storm move me, and so I just held my own until it passed," he said. "It's like treading water. Once the storm passed, there was still another storm moving in. So I found my way into some marsh grass and let that storm pass over."
In calmer weather, his small craft attracts attention both on the water and when he pulls into a marina to have a hamburger and restock his supplies. Mark Bouy, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Savannah, met Dougherty at a marina in St. Augustine, Florida, and offered Dougherty a room, a shower and good food when he dropped anchor in Savannah. He spent three restful days with his host.
Dougherty is former president of Our Lady's Blue Army/World Apostolate of Fatima USA in the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky. The lay group's purpose is to promote the message of Fatima and to encourage the faithful to pray the rosary every day as Mary requested.
Mary appeared to three shepherd children – Jacinta and Francisco Marto and their cousin Lucia dos Santos – in Fatima in 1917. The apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
In his interview with the Southern Cross, Dougherty quickly pointed out the purpose of his pilgrimage is to spread awareness of Fatima. He said, "I don't want anyone to heap more onto this trip than what it is – just a way to lead people to Christ through his mother's message."
"I've met so many who have fallen away from the church," Dougherty said. "What's encouraged me on this trip is the curiosity of our Protestant brothers and sisters. I think the ocean or the rowing intrigues them. Often they'll ask me what Fatima is and I'll explain that just as the Lord sent his angels and prophets, in 1917, he sent his mother to deliver what is known as God's peace plan for the world.
"And don't you know," he added, "the majority of hearts have been opened to that message. Lives have been touched, so this has been a beautiful journey so far."