Catholic takes faith on the road, travels to pilgrimage sites around U.S.
ARLINGTON, Va. - Lynda Rozell was at a crossroads in her life when she drove past a lot of silvery, gleaming, spaceship-like vehicles.
When she pulled over to investigate, she learned they were Airstreams -- a type of mobile home. As she stepped inside one of them, she began to feel at home. "I felt like I could live here," she said. "This is all I really need."
So Rozell, who calls herself the Tin Can Pilgrim, sold her Fairfax townhouse and gave away most of her possessions. With the sale of her brick-and-mortar home, she was able to buy a mobile one. She put her remaining furniture, artwork and keepsakes in a storage unit and brought the essentials with her, including her chihuahua, Penny.
She believes being with some of the estimated 1 million people who live full time on the road is where she's meant to be.
"It's a very small apostolate because what (God has) asked me to do is simply live and work among people and get to know them. I'm not preaching at people or even preaching with words," she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. "It's more just by actions, by trying to be helpful or doing something that touches their hearts."
Traveling missionary is just one of the many jobs Rozell has held over the course of her lifetime.
The 57-year-old started her career as a lawyer in Washington, first at a firm and then for many years at the Federal Trade Commission doing consumer protection work.
After she and her husband divorced, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom to their two daughters. During those years, she became interested in massage, and gradually started a small business as a massage therapist for pregnant women. But the penny-pinching that accompanied the Great Recession in 2008 brought that endeavor to a close.
So she began working at Tepeyac OB-GYN in Fairfax, using her background as a lawyer to help with different projects, including moving the pro-life, faith-based practice into a new office building. But once that was finished, Rozell had less work to do. Her older daughter had moved out and her younger daughter was about to.
It was while she was thinking and praying deeply about where she wanted to live and what she wanted to do that she found her hermitage on wheels. She still does some consulting work for Tepeyac from the road.
Though Rozell was raised Catholic, she didn't always practice her faith. The unexpected death of a co-worker and friend brought her back to God in her early 30s.
"A friend of mine from law school who had recently gotten engaged was mountain climbing in Argentina and died of a heart attack. It was just such a shock," she said. "I found out about it in the middle of the day and I really felt a voice in my heart say, ‘Go to church and pray for him.'"
So she walked from her office to nearby St. Stephen Martyr Church in Georgetown. As she cried in the pew, she promised God she would return to church. A while later, she went to her first confession in 15 years. "It was pretty scary going in but (the priest) was great," she said. "He was this old crusty ex-military guy (who said), ‘Hallelujah, welcome home.'"
Now, she tries to share that faith with others on the road. One opportunity came while attending the 10th annual Alumapalooza Rally in Jackson Center, Ohio -- a gathering of Airstream owners and fans at the Airstream factory.
While there, a tornado blew through the area, forcing the attendees out of their tiny homes and into the concrete bathrooms of the factory. Rozell had met a fellow Catholic couple at the convention earlier and when she saw them in the bathroom, she suggested they pray a rosary. The gravity of the situation brought others to prayer, too.
"There were some people who were not Catholic who were praying the rosary with us," she said, chuckling. Fortunately, outside their surroundings were relatively unscathed.
Most of Rozell's stops have been to different churches, shrines and retreat centers. Her favorite was a beautiful church in the middle of rural Alabama -- the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville. Nearby is the John Paul II Eucharistic Center, a museum with information about different aspects of Catholicism and lifesize replicas of biblical scenes.
"I just didn't know anything about this particular shrine, so when I got there I was very struck by a sense of peace and holiness," she said.
Rozell also finds God's presence in the midst of nature, which she encounters often living in the different camps where she parks her Airstream.
"Seeing God's beauty in nature is something that always draws my heart and my mind to him. So if I see something beautiful outside, like some really cool mushrooms that've sprung up overnight or a hawk flying along the creek here, it's just a moment to say thank you," she said.
Often from her bedroom window, she has the perfect vantage to witness the wildlife around her. Or she experiences nature while traipsing around as a camp host, which allows her to stay for free at the park while performing various chores, such as picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms.
While she's often on the move, Rozell believes her new lifestyle provides a sort of stillness that gives her a chance to tune out the distractions of life and stay close to God. "I feel so blessed that I'm doing this," she said. "It's freed me from having to take care of a lot of things that just aren't that important and (allowed me) to stay close to the Holy Spirit so if I do meet somebody, I can be open to use the right words or do the right thing."