A couple years ago, I had the good fortune to travel with some of my family to Scandinavia.  While in Norway, we spent a couple days touring the region between Oslo and Bergen, renowned for its alpine topography, fjords dotted with picturesque villages, and mountains cradling majestic glaciers.  The morning we left Bergen, we almost missed the bus that would take us to the fjords of Norway’s west coast.  So, as we scrambled on board we were forced to take whatever scattered seats remained.

As it happened, I sat down by a lanky, young man absorbed in his iPod.  Since I hadn’t yet had a chance to pray Morning Prayer, I pulled out my breviary, made the Sign of the Cross, and got started.  I then went on to the Office of Readings which I had marked with a holy card of Pope St. John Paul II.  After a few minutes, I noticed my travelling companion had quit fiddling with his tech-toy, so I introduced myself and we struck up a tentative conversation.  As he became a little more relaxed using his English (God knows, I couldn’t speak a word of Norwegian), I learned that he was a construction laborer – one of those courageous souls who climbs around on structural beams a hundred feet in the air.  Like so many others, he was out of work and on his way to visit his father, who lives in the fjord country.  As we drove along, it seemed incongruous that anyone could have a problem in this gorgeous country.  Yet, he did.  I got the sense that he had mixed emotions about visiting his dad.  On the one hand, he wanted to see him.  On the other, he wanted his dad to be proud of him, and he was out of work.

Noticing my breviary and the holy card of Pope John Paul, he asked if I was a priest.  After explaining to him about permanent deacons, I happened to flip over the holy card, and there was printed in bold type John Paul’s favorite quote of Jesus, one that he used on many occasions: “Be not afraid.”  That still small voice inside me urged: “Give it to him.”  So, I did.  For a while, things were quiet, then he said, “I think it should say: “Be afraid.  Just don’t be conquered by it.’”  I told him that we have a loving God who could conquer anything.

Finally, the time came to part ways.  We shook hands and I wished him well, sending up a quick prayer to St. John Paul (who loved young people so much) that he “take on” this young man.  I guess I’ll never know how this story ends (except maybe in heaven).  But, what I do know is that it was no accident that we were running late that morning in Norway; or that I wound up sitting next to a lanky Norwegian who was struggling with his fears; or that I just happened to have a card with the bold words: “Be not afraid.”  May we all heed those words and share them with our fellow travelers.