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Surfing for God View Comments
By Kathy M. Alford

DRIVE ALONG the sandy beaches in New Smyrna, Florida, near the inlet when the surf is up, and you’re likely to see a 12-foot, wooden cross planted in the sand in front of a white Nissan Xterra. If you hang around awhile, you’re bound to run into the guy who planted it there.

His name is George Alford, and although this 67-year-old just won the Eastern Surfing Association’s Grand Legends Championship for the second year running, most folks in these parts know him simply as “the guy with the cross.”

Some people think he’s a minister or a priest, but he’s not—at least not in the classic sense of those words. George counts his mission to surfers and other beachgoers as one of his most important ministries, right behind his vocation as a husband, father of nine children/stepchildren, and grandfather of 12.

Here’s what happens: after morning Mass, George drives to the beach. First thing he does when he gets there is pull out his shovel and dig a hole about a foot deep. Then he lifts the big cross down from the same roof racks that hold his surfboards, stands the cross in the hole, and hard-packs sand around the base to hold it in place.

After a few warm-up exercises and a prayer, George waxes up his surfboard and heads for the waves, where opportunities for faith-sharing with other surfers often crop up while waiting in the lineup. While George finds it doesn’t take much to get people talking about their faith experiences and their unanswered questions, he has also discovered that the conversations often go much deeper, with beachgoers asking probing questions about God, Church, and the pains and problems of life.

One of the first questions that people ask George is: Why do you plant a cross in front of your SUV at the beach? Another is: What gave you this idea? The answers to these questions lie in a story that begins back in 2004 with George’s entry into the world of surfing.

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Kathy M. Alford is a retired teacher. She and her husband, George, the subject of this article, are members of St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand, Florida.

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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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