WALKING TO ROME
a shortened excerpt
This is my story
It is taken from my book ‘Walking to Rome’ which was published in 2010 and tells of a life changing experience from a time when I was determined to commit suicide to this present time.
Born in Ireland, into a strong Irish Catholic Family I am the oldest boy in a family of fourteen……. At the age of 5 years, we moved to England and Blackburn.
A ‘Religious Life’?
As a young boy I would sneak out of the house to see the special missionaries coming to our local church, St. Peters, Mill Hill, Blackburn. At school when the teacher spoke about the different orders of monks, I had a desire to be one. Just before leaving school I decided to become a priest, and at the age of seventeen I had to make the choice between becoming a priest, or helping my parents with my wages which were needed in such a large family. I attended a type of open day at Belle Vue in Manchester where some monks from different orders talked with the visitors, showed display boards and gave out literature. An Irish priest from the Church of the Sacred Heart, helped me to make my decision to stay at home and help my family.
Life changed after this. I started playing snooker on my own table which was kept in an empty shop property which was part of our house. Then I began to go into pubs playing snooker and got a taste for drink. I seemed to be searching for something in life, so I tried snooker, darts, kung-fu, motor bikes, even philosophy and other things, but as I was not very well educated my understanding was limited.
One night at a darts match, I met a girl (she said I knocked her off her stool) – and the same night I asked her to marry me. Eight days later we were married. Kelly was a black haired Gipsy; everything at first was very romantic. Things were hard for a time, but because I loved her so much it was bearable. Then things began to get really bad. I was sacked from Witton Mill; where I had worked for eight and a half years. So, the dole and drink played a big part in separating Kelly and I, not to mention my jealous streak and her bad temper.
Love and Loneliness
The emotion of loneliness was tremendous, living in the same house, loving someone, but having that love rejected; but looking back I realize that I neither knew nor experienced what love was really all about.
Rejection is one of the main causes of loneliness and for two years it was like having my heart slowly ripped in two. I had a wife and a two year old step-daughter, yet I was lonely. I loved Kelly but we were never friends – which is very important.
The Demon Drink
Bills began to pile up; as people came to collect debts owned to them. This situation caused us to break into the gas meter as financially things were so bad, but then having got the money we spent it on drink leaving the bills still to be paid. Things got worse, my wife expecting a second child, had a threatened mis-carriage and went into hospital.
One night, my brother and I went into Blackburn town centre drinking, and by the end of the evening I was full, not only of drink but also self-pity. I made my way home and blocking the doors with blankets turned the gas cooker on and lay down on the settee. I thought my brother had gone his own way home, but in fact he was too drunk to find his way to Feniscowles so made his way to my home because it was near to the town centre. Not realizing that he had discovered a suicide attempt he pushed the unlocked door open, turned the cooker off and went to bed.
My drinking worsened and I began breaking into places at night times after a drinking bout. On one occasion, I pushed my hand through a glass window, trying to gain entrance; the glass shattered cutting into my hand and slicing my wrist open. I ran out into the rainy night, throwing myself over one back yard wall after another. In one of the yards was a massive greyhound which could have attacked me but didn’t; it was in a state of shock I think.
Arriving at my empty home, (Kelly was in hospital) full of blood, I tried to wash my wound. I tried several times, but was so weak from loss of blood that each time I tried I kept passing out, so I lay down on the settee until morning came. In the morning the doctor at Blackburn Royal Infirmary confirmed how close to the end my life had come.
Then one night I was caught breaking into St. Alban’s Club and put in Blackburn Police Cells.
Finally my wife and I separated for good and I had to go back home to my parent’s house were my four brothers and a sister still lived. Two of my brothers made it very hard for me, as if it wasn’t hard enough. I had already attempted suicide and was taking tablets to calm my nerves, and then I found my wife was seeing another man. My imagination ran wild, and hatred built up in my heart so much so that I went and watched the house where they were and waited my opportunity to take a knife to them both. I thank God the opportunity never came
One night as I lay on the floor in my brother’s bedroom (that’s where I slept on cushions) I cried in despair, tears welled up as my family slept on. My eyes were permanently red, I had been crying inside for some years and when my heart finally broke the floods of tears came.
I wanted to die, rejected by my wife and family, loneliness like I never knew existed accompanied by self pity caused me in despair to loudly cry out ‘God help me’.
I meant it, as I had never meant anything else before, and somehow I began to cope with things a little better.
One day shortly after his I was leaving my father’s house when I looked up into the sky and saw in my mind’s eye the Throne of God and Judgement. I came under a deep conviction knowing that I was going to hell. This was more real to me than anything in my past. Now I began to search for the answer
New Job / New Hope
I obtained a job at the Saxon Inn, but was still drinking heavily and stealing; these habits were in my system. I had bought a New Testament and began reading the gospel of Matthew. I couldn’t really understand what it all meant, but I still read it, because in my heart I knew the answer to my problem was to be found there.
The Search Begins
On May 6th 1981 a thought came to me to walk to Rome. This was impressed upon my heart. From a youth I had been taught that this was the seat of power and guidance towards God through the Pope. It was a big step of faith to leave everything, but I was searching for God, and what better place to find Him than in the Holy City of Rome, and as I stepped out, if there was a God, I believed He would keep me, if not I would be lost.
By Friday May 9th I was ready to go. I paid out my board money to my mum as usual, and paid my other bills leaving me with twenty eight pounds. That night my father had a black-out, he was dying of cancer although nobody knew it at that time, but I knew that on the Saturday morning I had to go. I set off at six in the morning with my small ruck-sac, an old PVC black jacket, Bible, umbrella and wearing a parka-anorak.
Warmth / Encouragement
Telling no-one about my proposed journey I just left Feniscowles heading for Haslingden. I must have walked over twenty miles that first day. Passing through the small town of Bacup I saw a church building and went in out of the rain. Shortly afterwards some young people came in to rehearse for their evening meeting at 7:30pm. Each had a friendly smile and came and spoke to me, thinking I had come to their meeting. I was really surprised and my heart was glad because someone was concerned about me, a stranger.
Later one of the girls called Rachel invited me home for tea at her father’s house. This was really exciting. I remember some of the names of those young people. There was John, George and Denise and an older lady who had a false leg, and of course the Rev. Harris, Rachel’s father.
After tea we talked and I told them about my walking to Rome to which they listened intently.
In the meeting which was held later, John spoke about the love of God. He said ‘the Lord will fill you full of the Holy Ghost just like filling a cup, and when you think your cup is full He will fill it even more and you will wonder when He’s going to stop, but He won’t, even when your cup overflows’.
After the meeting everyone said good-bye and the young people asked me where I was staying the night. I said and was getting a bed and breakfast somewhere, although I had little money for my boat fare and food let alone bed and breakfast, but I told this lie so that they would not detain me from my journey. It would have been nice to stay, but I knew I had to go on.
Cold and Uncomfortable
I went out into the night, and the rain came down. Walking out of Bacup I left the street lights behind and walking on into the night passed through the town that was hidden in a valley of hills called Todmorden. Here I stopped in a bus shelter and tried to sleep, but was too uncomfortable, so carried on. In the early morning I came to Halifax and stopping there for a short rest, sat on a loading bay down a side street before heading for Leeds.
As I went I asked the Lord for the rain to stop so that I might lie down and rest in some nearby field. Later that Sunday afternoon the ground had dried up quite a lot, and suddenly I realized that my prayer had been answered. Thanking the Lord I climbed a fence and found a spot next to the river where I drank a bottle of milk and ate some brown bread; and after about half an hour or so I set off again. My feet began to get sore, so much so that I had to stop just as I approached Leeds. Sitting in a field, next to a bill-board, I took off my shoes and socks, and after eating some more bread and having a short rest, swapped my socks round and began walking again.
Passing through Leeds I came to the York road, and at about 11 o’clock because my legs were giving way, lay down in the grass verge next to a hedge, but was very cold, so I asked the Lord for somewhere to sleep. Getting up I walked on, tired, cold and wet, and then I saw a half-way house, which is, a coffee bar for wagon drivers. There were a number of old cars outside behind a fence, and also a transit van on its side outside the fence, and right away I knew the Lord had provided this for me to sleep in.
At about two or three o’clock in the morning I awoke (I never went into a deep sleep on my journey) and when I woke up I saw a man sitting at my feet. He looked to be in his early to mid forties and was wearing a check jacket. My immediate reaction was how he had got there! I sat up, reaching out to him and said ‘ee how are you?’ but he just faded away and vanished... There was no fear about this situation, but a peace. When I was later giving testimony in several churches; mature Christians and Ministers explained that this man was my Guardian Angel. He was watching over, protecting and guiding me. I lay back down and went to sleep to wake a couple of hours later to the sound of dogs barking in the distance.
Arriving in York I asked at the railway station for the price of the ferry from Hull to Europort in Holland, this as £26:40p. Looking at my money I saw I had only £24 left, but I had just read in my Bible that the Lord would provide, so I went into a nearby park to eat, and then pressed on to Hull, believing the Lord’s words. I thought of asking some people the way to Hull, and was in fact going to ask several, but somehow didn’t. Then I saw and old man and woman, and I knew they were the ones to ask. They directed me to the bus route, but I explained that I was walking to Rome. The man who later told me he was called ‘One-Eyed Jack’ pulled £5 out to give me. I refused at first but they both insisted – the Lord had provided yet again.
Visions and Provisions
The next stop was Hull. Ten miles out of Hull I found a cigarette lighter which was working and put it in my ruck-sac. As I came into Hull I found I had missed the boat and would have to wait 24 hours for the next. I decided to buy fish and chips to cheer myself up, and on the way to the shop found a large sheet of polythene which I put into my ruck-sac. Sitting on an overgrown bank by the canal I ate my fish and chips and lay back to rest my weary body. As I looked at the clouds they appeared to take on the form of Jesus and I could see clearly the colour of His skin and the clothes He wore. In the background there appeared to be a gladiator in blue standing against the wall. I got the impression that it was the time when Jesus was on trial. The, as it came, it went, and as much as I tried to bring it back or imagine the scene again, I could not, not even to this day; neither do I know the significance of it.
Wrapping myself in the polythene I went to sleep under a nearby tree, and the next day went across to Holland knowing I had only a one-way ticket, but I was trusting in the Lord. All I had in my pockets on arriving in Holland was a Mars Bar and three pennies. Later that day I asked the Lord to provide some food and sometime later I saw to my amazement, a packet of unopened biscuits lying on the grass verge. Really thanking the Lord I picked them up and went on. The following day, again I asked for food and eventually found a duck, which had been knocked down by a car, lying at the roadside. I put it in my ruck-sac and the Lord led me to a clearing where I built a fire and lit it with the lighter I had found – and I had meat to eat.
The Wrong Way
By this time my left ankle was swollen and I was limping, I came to a sign saying BREDA .
All day I had been following the sun and continued to do so, forgetting that the sun had moved round, so I went the wrong way. After going four or five miles I knew I was wrong and had to head back for Breda. After a short rest I headed back but was in great despair, and began to call on the Lord with all my strength for help. I got back onto the Breda road and half way down this road a car stopped and a Dutch man asked if I wanted a lift.
God not Man
When setting off from home I had decided that I would not ask for any lifts, but would walk all the way to Rome, but believing this was to make up for the 5 miles had walked the wrong way, I jumped in and thanked him.
He told me his name was Gerrit and he asked me if I was on holiday. I explained that I was walking to Rome to find God and told him I had a Bible whereupon he showed me his Bible under the dashboard of his car. He asked me if I had heard the news that last Wednesday the Pope had been shot in the arm and wounded. I replied that I had not, but as I said this I realised it was God I was searching for, not a man.
Gerrit asked me if I had ever seen a windmill before and on discovering that I had only seen them at a distance offered to take me to see one close by which was owned by a friend of his. I readily accepted and enjoyed the tour especially standing on a wooden balcony about 20 feet up and seeing a pear tree growing next to the mill. As we finished looking round the mill and set off on our journey I thought to myself – what a kind man Gerrit was, and this was proved to be true.
When we came to Breda he said to me, ‘Last time I was here I wanted a Chinese meal, but they make a meal for TWO people, and I was only ONE person’ Oh, no, I thought, he’s going to ask me, and I have only three English pennies. He continued, ‘How do you say in English, the treat is on me, Ya’ - I said ‘YA’. So we went into this ‘posh’ Chinese restaurant and ordered a meal for two, which was made up of about 20 different dishes kept warm on a hot plate. It took us about an hour and a half to finish our meal during which Gerrit asked me lots of questions and when we had finished he explained what had happened to him that day.
He was on his way home to Utrecht and could have gone through Rotterdam or straight on the motorway, but, and the Lord had told him to go right out of his way and take the road to Breda because on this road he would see a man ‘loopen’ which means walking in Dutch - and to pick him up. ‘Now I believe the Lord wants you to come with me’ he said but if you think you should continue and go to Rome, I will drive you to Antwerp
Something was happening to me, there was a welling up inside me and my eyes began to glisten, so I told him that I knew I had to go with him as something was happening. His reply was that he could see it in my eyes. We went to a place in Utrecht were about 15 to 20 people were gathered. There was something different about these people, they had a joy and peace about them, later he took me to his home. As we talked he asked what was stopping me from giving my life to God there and then. This made me think - what is stopping in me? The following day he brought me to a Christian meeting whether there was about 250 people all praising God. Their praises seemed to ascend up in one accord and I knew it was there and then that I had to ask Jesus to come into my life. So I did. Lifting up my hands I said ‘Jesus come into my life’ something happened inside, all the hurt just went and the love of Jesus filled me, just like the cup overflowing (as John had said in Bacup). My face lit up causing those Christians around me to remark at the change in me.
“The Way” Home
A Christian missionary to Taiwan came to Gerrit’s home to see me. After talking to me, and making sure that my decision to follow Jesus was not simply a way out of my troubles he told me that the elders of the Church had decided to buy me a plane ticket to Manchester, where Christians from Bolton would then take me home to my very front door.
It took seven days to walk to Holland and only three hours to come home. The Lord was showing me he was going to provide. I came back to England a week later brand new man; there had been no need to continue walking to Rome. God had shown me that religion would never meet my needs - but Jesus would. I had tried to find God - but He had found me. Jesus says “I am the way the truth and the life no man comes to the Father but by me”. He took me just as I was and made me His child, part of his family, not a member of the Church but as son of God. In the following months three of my sisters, their children and my brother Philip came to know the Lord Jesus as their Saviour as they recognised that the change in my life was not of myself but of God. They continued to love and serve him to this day.
My conversion that is my changed life from being a thief a drunkard and of being no use anybody - to someone who is able to be useful to others by showing then that there is a better way of living and that her situations are not hopeless, took place on the 17th May 1981 since then I have seen the lives of many people changed by God just as He changed my life.
I have recorded a longer version of this story plus many more incidents of how God has led me and helped me in my book ‘Walking to Rome’ by Vincent J. Purcell. This book can be purchased on-line at www.amazon.co.uk or ordered through W.H. Smith and other retailers.
The book is a true story, it is unique to me, and the events explained in it are the way I saw them and from a perspective which I believe, is honest and true. Some names have been changed for the sake of anonymity but the events will remain the same. I saw such a ‘spiritual’ glorious sunset, and more, but it did not fade away with the night, but became more glorious, and this is what I want to share with all who read it.
It’s about one man’s search for reality, and reading this book will take you on a journey, travelling with me through the valley of the shadow of death, over hills and dales, until you reach the glorious mountain summit where my life was changed for ever.
An acquaintance asked me once if I missed the things of my past life and my answer was spontaneous and was as follows.
My past life was like living in the sewer with the stench, darkness and fear of attack from rats at anytime, my life was totally messed up. Then one day I was brought out of there and into the light, with fresh air, blue skies and beautiful green fields full of scented flowers and mountain landscapes. So I answered no, I would not want to return to the sewer. I think I painted the picture for him.
Has my story ended – no it certainly has not – this was just the beginning of a different phase.
I have a hope that is steadfast and sure – one day I am going to see Jesus, but until then am content to live in His kingdom, doing the things He gives me to do, rejoicing in knowing Him and His power.
Have I learnt from my past? – Yes I have, and am now in the position of being able to share this with others so that they might benefit from my experiences.
It is said that the difference between wisdom and knowledge is this. Knowledge is when you learn by your mistakes, wisdom is leaning from the mistakes made by others.
It is my hope and prayer that you too will learn from the things I have written and not make the same mistakes but come to know Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour.
Guess what – if this happens we will meet one day in heaven.
Until that day I can be contacted through