When high winds and adverse weather conditions prevented students and staff from “walking with Christ” in a literal sense at the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s 14th annual “Walk with Christ: Justice for the Poor” Pilgrimage, the walk became symbolic of the students’ “collective power” to make a difference in the world.
On Sunday, October 15th, roughly 3,000 students and staff assembled at Cathedral High School for the annual Pilgrimage Mass and Walk. There they learned that the Wentworth Street Rail Trail had been closed for safety reasons due to the impending storm, and the 8-kilometre walk was cancelled.
“While we will not journey together today, we will continue our journey in service of those who most need our help,” Director of Education David Hansen challenged students at the Pilgrimage Mass.
The annual pilgrimage was established in 2003 as a system-wide service project for Grade 7-12 students to raise awareness about social justice issues in the Developing South, and to create a mechanism through which students could commit their support.
Each year, thousands of students, staff and parents give up part of their weekend to walk in solidarity with the world’s poor and to raise money, through pledges, for charities abroad. In the past 14 years, more than $600,000 has been raised for development projects in Haiti, Uganda and the Dominican Republic.
Welcoming students to the opening mass at Cathedral High School, Chairperson Pat Daly connected the pilgrimage to this year’s Catholic Education Week theme, “Renewing the Promise.”
Beyond the promise to protect and promote the gift of publicly funded Catholic education, those involved in Catholic education have an obligation to maintain and live up to the pillars upon which it has been built, said Daly.
That promise includes committing to academic and co-curricular excellence, being good stewards of creation, and promoting a culture of life.
“And, of course, we promise to serve the disadvantaged in our own communities and throughout the world,” he added.
“We are so fortunate to have students and staff in our schools who do that each and every day, but in a very public way today.”
That call to serve is instilled in us at baptism, said mass celebrant, Bishop Emeritus Anthony F. Tonnos.
“At the time of our baptism, we become God’s special children and are invited to walk with Christ – the theme of your walk today.”
“You have been invited, not only to be good, but to do good,” said the bishop.
Noting that goodness is about staying close to the Lord, he added that, through the goodness that comes from God’s blessings, we’re able to take that goodness, pour it out, and help others.
“It isn’t just to do good, but we also have to walk with the Lord, and that’s what we strive to do every day of our lives.”
Thanking students and staff for taking the time to support the pilgrimage and so many other school and community events, Director of Education quoted Pope Francis who stated that true Christian witness involves a journey, service and giving freely of oneself.
“As we support the people of the Developing World, know that in our simple way today, we are contributing directly to the essential mandate of our faith – to serve Jesus by serving others,” he told the students.
Indicating that they have a collective power to make change, Hansen added that while the pilgrimage is but a small action, their capacity to right the wrongs of the world is without limit.
“God bless and thank you for being people of hope and service.”
This year’s Pilgrimage is hoped to raise $35,000. The funds will provide ongoing support for development agencies in the Global South, including ADESJO (Association for the Development of San José de Ocoa), a grassroots organization that has built roads, aqueducts, irrigation systems, greenhouses, schools, medical centres and homes in impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic; the Kankobe Children’s Home in Uganda which provides shelter, schooling and health care for 120 vulnerable orphan children; and St. Gabriel’s Parish and Ste. Genevieve Parish in Haiti for infrastructure projects and the purchase of much-needed medical supplies. Additional monies are also donated to the Holy Childhood Society in support of the organization’s missionary work with children in the developing South.