Dominican Priest Offers Mass at the Summit of Kilimanjaro
“Hiking is my best time for contemplation,” says Dominican Father Corwin Low. “It’s hard not to when surrounded by the incredible beauty of God’s creating hand.”
Dominican Father Corwin Low is the pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Portland, Oregon. An avid outdoorsman and hiker, Father Corwin recently summited Mount Kilimanjaro, evangelizing all the way up, and saying Mass at the peak. He recently spoke with me and provided a number of photos of this marvelous expedition.
Why did you go on this trip? How did it come up in the first place? Was it evangelical in nature or purpose?
I was asked by Dolores Meehan to be the chaplain on the trip. She fundraises for both the Walk for Life West Coast (San Francisco) and LifeRunners (a pro-life group). She also MCs the Walk for Life. From her side she wants to bring awareness to pro-life issues (obviously). I asked her if I could also fundraise for our Dominican student brothers in formation. She heartily agreed. I saw this trip as an opportunity to be a witness to the Faith for those who went on the trip as well as those who we would meet on the trip.
Have you ever attempted a climb like this before?
I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro before, 19 years ago. It was on then on my bucket list. Bucket lists are really only a passing fantasy for me these days because as a Dominican I’m always seeing things through the lens of salvation of souls. Bucket lists tend to be a little self-absorbing.
Were there any unforeseen blessings of the trek? If so, like what?
Absolutely. Nineteen years ago we had perfect weather and I thought that it would be no different. The day we arrived the Kilimanjaro region experienced the most thunder, lightning and rain that it had in decades. This happened in the so-called dry season. The weather continued to be problematic throughout the trek, though there was only one day where we were truly hiking in a downpour. I was more worried about my white habit.
On summit day it snowed a couple of inches and was windy. I figured that celebrating Mass at the top would be out of the question but we brought all the gear anyway. When we got to the top it was balmy (for being at almost 20,000 feet). It was actually partly sunny. I was able to set up for Mass at the top and when consecration came the clouds parted and it was sunny. The clouds came back after consecration. I celebrated a votive Mass for Christ the King — seemed appropriate to me. The whole thing was a miracle.
Was it as physically challenging as you expected, or easier/harder?
Not as challenging as I thought. We only did 6-8 miles a day, but it was at high altitude, so that makes a difference. But I’ve been hiking/backpacking for years so I was in pretty good shape. Oddly enough, I was the only member of our team that was not affected by the altitude at the top. I attribute this to my desire to and the grace that came with celebrating Mass on the summit.
I know you're an avid hiker. Why is that? How can exploring God’s creation help us grow in relationship with him?
Oh, that’s easy. Hiking is my best time for contemplation. It’s hard not to when surrounded by the incredible beauty of God’s creating hand. I can also get several Rosaries in and pray for the needs of the parish and for those who have asked me to pray for them. Sometimes I meet zero people on the trail. I rely on God’s providence to keep me safe (though I’m not overly foolish). I am very fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, which abounds in beauty.
Do you see yourself doing something like this again? Conquering another world-famous peak and offering Mass?
I do, but perhaps on a lower scale. I would love to do the COR expeditions for Wyoming Catholic College. But their need is always the first two weeks of August. At Holy Rosary this coincides with the Byrd Festival and the Feast of St. Dominic. So, it’s hard to do things out-of-parish during that time.
Also, I would not do anything like this for the sake of “conquering” a mountain. I would do it only to glorify God and to be a witness to others. When bringing youth and young adults into the wilderness, if possible, I will try and offer the sacraments for this purpose.