Christian minister Arthur Blessitt has spent 40 years on an unusual mission, carrying a large cross around the world. The one-time youth pastor to Hollywood's Sunset Strip returned to Hollywood for the opening of a film that chronicles his travels.
Arthur Blessitt has been called "crazy" and "a nut." Sometimes the comments come from his admirers who at least respect Blessitt's perseverance. The Evangelical Christian preacher has walked more than 60,000 kilometers with a 3.5-meter cross on his back. The journey has taken Blessitt through scores of war zones and led to encounters with noted figures, from Pope John Paul II to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Blessitt began his career as a youth minister on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, once a center of the 1960s counterculture. He ran a Christian coffee house adorned with a large cross, and says he came to understand the power of the symbol. He began carrying the cross on the streets of Hollywood and felt a calling to take it across the country.
"And so Christmas, 1969, I put the cross on my shoulder and started walking from LA to New York, down to Washington," said Arthur Blessitt. "And that actually began a journey that was to continue. From the time I made the cross until I finished was a 40-year journey."
Blessitt says he has walked through 315 nations, island groups and territories. He was arrested two dozen times and passed through scores of war zones. He surmounted obstacle to get into closed countries, receiving permission to visit North Korea in 1998, bringing sections of a cross in his luggage. A decade earlier, he took the cross into Saudi Arabia, crossing the border briefly in the middle of the desert from the United Arab Emirates.
Blessitt, who has made the journey in segments, was often accompanied on the trips by his wife and some of his seven children.
Blessitt says that, by and large, people have welcomed him.
"The world has been open, all over the world," he said. "I mean, I've carried the cross [in] Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia."
And the list goes on. Blessitt has braved the elements, and says he once escaped a makeshift firing squad in war-torn Nicaragua.
"I mean, it is a miracle that I am still alive today," said Blessitt. "And that my wife is alive, that my children, seven children…. We've been in wars, we've been in battlefields. And I have carried the cross publicly."
Blessitt's unlikely story is told in a film called The Cross, which is made up of newsreel footage, personal videos and dramatic reenactments.
Matt Crouch, a filmmaker who produces feature pictures with religious themes, directed the film about Blessitt's pilgrimage. Crouch's parents founded the Evangelical Christian "Trinity Broadcasting Network," a worldwide network based in California. The family has known Blessitt for years, and Crouch says he realized the story could reach a wider audience.
"What interesting about this story is that someone would have the confidence to listen to that inner voice that would say 'go from here to here.' And he would enter a country sometimes with $50 in his pocket, before cell phones, and know he was going to be there for three months," said Matt Crouch. "You've got to have some serious confidence in what you're doing to think that you could even survive that."
Blessitt now lives in Colorado. He returned to Hollywood, the place where his travels started, for the opening of the film at the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater March 24. He says his four-decade journey has come full circle.
"I have walked in the markets of the world," he said. "I've walked in the deserts and the jungles and I've walked through the big cities and through the traffic. And now it actually is a walk into Hollywood."
The itinerant evangelist says many people he has met have not fully understood him, but have welcomed him all the same.
"They know this is about God, and even though many times the religion may be different, whether it's Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or whatever, the people have had a great respect - [saying], well this man is putting his life on the line," said Blessitt. "He's walking here with us, has a smile on his face."
The Cross opens March 27 in 200 theaters around the United States. Producer-director Crouch thinks it should appeal to international audiences. He notes the story about an unusual pilgrim was 40 years in the making, and was filmed in every country in the world.