Fr Pawel Barszczewski OP has done what not many priests have done before â€“ completed the New York City Marathon.
A long-distance runner of 15 years, the assistant priest from St Josephâ€™s Parish, Kingswood, competed in one of the worldâ€™s most famous marathons on Sunday 5 November in just over five hours.
â€śThe New York Marathon is so unique because itâ€™s one of the biggest marathons in the world,â€ť Fr Pawel explained. â€śWe had more than 50,000 runners finish the race and over two million spectators across the city. You run through the crowd the whole way and the atmosphere â€“ the spectators, the cheering, the noise and music â€“ is just amazing.â€ť
Fr Pawelâ€™s dream of participating in the New York Marathon began in 2019. Having previously ministered in New York, Fr Pawel recorded the race to watch with Parish Priest Fr Andrew Fornal OP and pointed out all the familiar locations to him.
In 2020, the New York Marathon was to celebrate its 50th anniversary and opened registrations for 50 participants via a lottery. With the permission of Fr Andrew, Fr Pawel applied for the lottery, but was unsuccessful. On Ash Wednesday 2020, he received word that his registration has been successful, however the first major COVID lockdowns began, and the race was cancelled.
Having registered, Fr Pawel was granted the opportunity to reschedule to a different year, and he chose the 2023 race, which, in his own words, was a â€śspecial gift to myselfâ€ť for his 50th birthday.
To get prepared for any marathon, Fr Pawel would normally train for up to six months. Balancing his parish workload and his chaplaincy ministry at Australian Catholic Universityâ€™s Blacktown Campus, he tries to run a few times a week, including a long-standing commitment with the local running group at 5.30am on a Saturday.
â€śRunning gives you a lot of freedom. You are not bound by any type of membership, you donâ€™t need special gear, you just put on your shoes and go out,â€ť Fr Pawel described.
â€śSlow running gives me an opportunity to meditate and to think. I deeply believe that my best homilies are prepared during my long runs because there are no distractions â€“ just the Scripture, the run, the nature and the meditation.â€ť
As a chaplain, Fr Pawel sees his long distance running as a starting off point in talking to students not only about sport but about faith.
â€śWhen you are part of a competition like the New York Marathon, what is really amazing is that you see different people of different ages, backgrounds and fitness levels all running in the same direction,â€ť he said.
â€śI believe that for us as Christians, this is an image of spiritual life. We are all different, but we run or walk towards Christ.
â€śYou also feel a beautiful sense of community in the marathon. Iâ€™ve experienced many times when somebody suddenly stops or is injured, the other runners go and support and help them out and it doesnâ€™t matter if you cross the finish line five minutes later.
â€śWe can also find this in the Church. Sometimes, we walk towards Christ and towards heaven at different paces, but we can definitely still support one another.
â€śThere is a connection between body, soul and spirit, and thatâ€™s why we need to take care of our bodies, which, according to St Paul, is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
â€śIt is good to maintain a healthy diet and some form of exercise, whether its soccer, basketball, walking or running. We have bodies, we are not angels, so we need to take care of our bodies and spirits at the same time.â€ť
With no plans in the future to participate in the other â€śmajorsâ€ť, Fr Pawel hopes to enjoy running for a few more years.
â€śI enjoy running in the Sydney Marathon as I fundraise for the St Vincent de Paul Society. With the support of the parish, I normally raise a few thousand dollars for Vinnies, and the parishioners love that I do this.
â€śWhen Iâ€™m on my holidays back in Poland, I try to find races there as well whether itâ€™s a marathon or a half-marathon, and I have friends who are happy to run with me.
â€śI would jump at the opportunity to run in the other big marathons, but running is a lovely addition to my life, not a priority.â€ť