Accompanied by her faith in God and the power that lies within her, a homeless Greek woman, Katerina Mavromichali, who has lived in England for the last 17 years, started walking from the Church of St. Panteleimon in London towards Souroti in Thessaloniki, where Saint Paisios is interred.
In this way, she wants to pay her respects to the Father from Mount Athos. His figure and words have helped her countless times in her life and have given her the courage to continue to carry the burden of her own cross without a word of criticism…
The purpose of her journey, which exceeds 2,000 kilometers, is more than sacred. This journey is directly related to the experience she has gained from raising two of her four children, aged 9 and 7 respectively, who has autism. Katerina’s life-long dream is to raise public awareness in order to raise the money needed to set up an organization for autism, both for children with autism and their parents. In this way, they do not have to deal with those difficulties she has encountered while raising her children. The organization’s goal will be to study and carry out research at all levels about autism and to support families whose members are facing an uphill struggle.
“I encountered the classic problems that parents with autistic children have. We get a diagnosis, and we are not told what causes the disease or what can help. Without medical knowledge, we try to find the answer. We want this organization to bring about change. We want to shed light on the field of autism, to do open-access research,” she says shortly before starting her long lifetime journey towards the tomb of Saint Paisios. She never hid from what she had to encounter. She revealed everything she was going through. She spoke openly to the heart of many people and decided with the help of friends to create the website futureforautism.org in order to detail her vision.
The ultimate goal of this project is for health professionals to get in touch with parents and give them the solutions so that they make their daily lives as easy as possible. As Katerina states, “if the parents are happy and have the support they need, then the children will be happy too.”
She will have only one “companion” on her journey: the stroller she used to transport her children. She will carry a few supplies: a tent, two chargers and a few dried prosphora.
Faith in God will be her equipment.
“I had lost my faith for quite some time when I came to England,” she says. “It’s something that happens to everyone. At one point, I was not interested in my daily life.”
However, a serious incident with her daughter with autism prompted her to ask for His help and since then her life has changed once and for all.
“When I was pregnant, my two-year-old daughter had an outburst of anger. I was trying to keep her from hitting herself. At some point, she was exhausted and fell asleep. Exhausted then, I fell to my knees and said, “Christ, come to me now.”
Now her “weapons” to face the challenges are spiritual.
“After so many difficulties, what keeps me going is faith and spiritual practice, to incense, to make supplications, to commune,” she humbly says.
Her relationship with the new Saints of the Church and in particular Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, in whose tomb the journey that she will start from London will end is special.
“The Saint has helped me in very difficult times. I may not be a fervent Christian, but I cannot help but acknowledge His help” she admits.
However, there is something else that makes the connection with Saint Paisios of Mount Athos unique and in fact she discovered it by chance: her son was born on July 12, the day of the passing of Saint Paisios.
Her faith in God is very strong and she strongly believes that everyone has the right to say that they are Christians.
“Christianity has become taboo. We cannot say that we are Christians, because we are told that if we do it is like we are not respecting the other. But I really want to exercise my right to be a Greek Christian,” she emphasizes.
As if everything that has happened in her life was not enough, a year ago Katerina’s life took a very bad turn, with her losing everything she had been given so far. She was literally left on the street, although this was not the most important blow, because she lost even the people she loves more than anything else in her life: her children.
Her description is shocking:
“A year ago, my little daughter – who was 9 months old at the time – stopped eating solid food. She was drinking only her milk. She was already a premature baby, had been born seven months old and had been in the hospital for a year. Sometimes, at this age, teething babies do not eat due to their toothache. So, I informed the Welfare, the doctor, everyone. They sent me a medical visitor to my house. The child had one day to eat and was very thin. So they sent me to the hospital. I was already divorced from my husband and was raising our four children alone. When I went to the hospital, the Police and the Child Protective Service were there and they accused me of abusing my child! As you can see, I was shocked! I stayed in the hospital for a week with my little daughter and they put their father at home. At the hospital the doctors said that the premature babies who have been tube-fed have exactly these symptoms, however, this was ignored by the Welfare. So, for about a year now, I have been moving from house to house and last week I almost slept on the street”.
However, she sees the hardships that she goes through as a valuable lesson that comes from above. “It was the moment I found myself and God, it is what they say that sometimes you have to lose everything to understand that only this is needed, only this I see in front of me and it gives me a lot of strength to be able to stand on my feet”.
*The text was originally published in the Greek Orthodox newspaper “Alithia”