“Unlikely Pilgrim,” best described as a travelogue, is an account of eleven trips — pilgrimages, actually — taken by two good friends, one of Rappahannock County, over the course of twenty years to rarely traveled regions of the Middle East and Europe.
Often spontaneous, always unplanned, Alfred S. “Al” Regnery and his travel companion walked, hitchhiked, bicycled, and on occasion drove to sites rich in the history of Western Civilization, Christianity and Islam.
Some were trips to more well known places: the Camino de Santiago in Spain, Ephesus in what is now Turkey, Philippi in Greece. Others, to remote regions of Albania, Romania and Syria, were in corners of the ancient world unknown to many Westerners.
Regnery, enthusiastically engaging the local population he met along the way, now tells the stories of the journeys, rich in local color, history, and the culture of “rural” Europe and the Middle East
The eleven pilgrimages were bookended by trips to Greece, the most recent in 2017 — following the Via Egnatia, built in 200 BC by the Romans and covered on bicycle — recalled earlier in these pages of the Rappahannock News.
Unlikely destinations in Romania similarly were reached on bicycle. Bulgaria on foot. Albania by thumb. Home to three of the most repressive Communist governments, the three countries provided fascinating comparisons of the way Christianity was revived after the end of the Cold War and how they are slowing regaining Western freedoms.
Surrounding one bicycle trip across Poland that followed the steps of St. John Paul II, Regnery recounts the vivid comparison of Orthodox faith to Catholicism, much of it through the people he met along the way. In fact, George Weigel, biographer to Pope John Paul II, reviewed “Unlikely Pilgrim: A Journey Into History and Faith,” stating simply that it’s “Full of great stories.”
In Turkey, the author, who has spent his career in business, politics, law and journalism — lecturing on them all in a classroom at RappU — visited what remains of the Seven Churches of Revelation, described by John in the first chapters of the Book of Revelation, all central to the development of the Early Church.
And just before 9/11, as it would turn out, Regnery was in Syria, traveling to nether regions when they were still relatively peaceful and benign. Many of the sites written about in the book were since destroyed by Muslim extremists.
A rather common exchange with a Syrian, when it became apparent that Regnery was American, went something like this: “So you’re an American. I don’t care for your government much, but then I don’t like our government much, either. I cannot do anything about my government — it is what it is — and I assume you cannot do anything about yours, either. But let’s be friends.”
Publisher Beaufort Books says Unlikely Pilgrim is inspiring; rich in history, geopolitics, culture and faith; and “will make readers want to drop what they are doing, pack up a rucksack, and follow in [Regnery’s] footsteps.”