Archbishop Paul F. Russell, center, made a bicycle “pilgrimage” around the island of Taiwan in November 2013, covering a distance of about 850 miles. To the Archbishop’s left is Tony Hsieh, a staff member of the Apostolic Nunciature in Taiwan. To his right is Msgr. Ivan Santus, member of the diplomatic service of the Holy See, currently assigned to the Section for Relations with States of the Vatican Secretariat of State. (Photos courtesy of Archbishop Paul F. Russell)
Don’t call him an iron man, but Archbishop Russell is no stranger to physical challenges – says love of nature ‘is part of my spirituality’
DETROIT — Catholics are familiar with the outdoor exploits of saints like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and Pope Saint John Paul II, both of whom were known enthusiasts who enjoyed mountain climbing, swimming, skiing, and kayaking.
The latter’s kayak is even on display at the Orchard Lake Schools campus library, which Cardinal Karol Wojtyla used during a visit to Michigan in 1976.
With all due respect to the Saints of the Church, however, none of them have performed the physical rigors that might rightly earn them the designation of “true Taiwanese.”
But Detroit’s newest auxiliary bishop, Archbishop Paul F. Russell, has that distinction.
To say the 63-year-old archbishop, who served from 2008 to 2016 as the Vatican’s chief of mission in Taiwan, the self-governing island off China, loves the outdoors is an understatement.
“There are three things that are physical challenges that Taiwanese believe make you a true Taiwanese,” Archbishop Russell said. Detroit Catholic. “The first is to climb Taiwan’s tallest mountain, Mount Jade, which is nearly 13,000 feet. The second thing is to swim across Taiwan’s largest lake, Sun Moon Lake, which is 4.6 kilometers wide. And the third thing is to cycle around the whole island, which is 850 miles.
Archbishop Russell is pictured hiking to the summit of Mount Sulbus in the Yayladere district of Bingöl province, Turkey, at a height of 12,740 feet above sea level.
Yes, Detroit’s newest bishop did all three of those things.
“I’m not particularly good at anything,” he said. “I’m not a professional cyclist, but cycling in Taiwan doesn’t require that level.”
The two-week cycle tour of the island also took on a religious component, Bishop Russell said.
“The idea was to make it a spiritual pilgrimage,” he said. “As I was riding around Taiwan on my bicycle, I asked the Blessed Mother to ride around Taiwan and protect Taiwan with her coat. So I did this with the other Monsignor who worked with me at the nunciature and two of my collaborators who also liked to ride bicycles.
The four stopped at various Catholic parishes, institutions and mission sites as they toured the island, visiting clergy and lay worshipers – a rare opportunity to meet the people they served.
Archbishop Russell called the pilgrimage “one of the most physically challenging things I have done in my life” and “a very spiritually and humanly rewarding experience.”
He enjoyed it so much that he has already started a similar cycling pilgrimage closer to home, around the perimeter of the Diocese of Gaylord, home to his native Alpena – a distance of around 615 miles.
“I started in October,” Bishop Russell said. “I don’t have time to do everything at once, so I do it step by step. I went from Mackinaw City to Traverse City to Suttons Bay. If time permits, I’ll do the other parts.
Archbishop Russell hikes Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington state on May 8, 2022, in whiteout conditions.
Archbishop Russell is pictured at the Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan, popularly known as ‘The Gates of Hell’.
This time he’s cycling solo, he said – a tribute to the venerable Bishop of Michigan, Frederic Baraga, the ‘snowshoe priest’ who rode across the upstate region to evangelize indigenous peoples in the 1800s.
“It’s in the footsteps of Bishop Baraga, who founded all kinds of beautiful little churches and missions,” Bishop Russell said. “I’m doing it slowly, but if anyone wants to join me, I’m open to it.”
Some of these churches and chapels have made it onto Archbishop Russell’s Instagram feed, which he updates regularly, including a recent post from a kayaking trip on Lake Huron.
“There is a hiking and rafting pilgrimage for young adults in late July (sponsored by most dioceses in Michigan), and I plan to do that,” Bishop Russell said. “I love these things. Nature is God’s creation, and it’s a way we can connect with God. The beauty of God’s creation shows us the beauty of God. It’s definitely part of my life. spirituality.
Now that he’s in Detroit, Archbishop Russell said, a visit to the archdiocese might be in order.
“Maybe now I need to include the other dioceses in Michigan as well, since Detroit is the metropolitan seat,” he laughed.