On Oct. 18th, close to 3,000 students and staff set out from Cathedral High School on an 8-kilometre “Walk with Christ” in support of the poor in the Global South.
Likening the annual pilgrimage to Jesus’ three-year public ministry in which he is said to have walked more than 5,000 kilometres, Bishop Daniel Miehm – presiding at the opening mass to kick off the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s 12th annual “Walk with Christ: Justice for the Poor” fundraiser pilgrimage – noted that 5,000 km is akin to walking from Hamilton to the Yukon Territories.
“That’s a long walk,” he told the gathering of students. “Jesus walked because that’s what poor people did in his time.”
Unlike countries in the developing world, people in Canada walk for recreation, he indicated – not because they have to, but because they want to.
“Today, you walk in the service of the poor,” Bishop Miehm championed the students. “When you do that you’ll experience what they experience.”
“Walk with the poor, walk as the poor, and you will be a blessing to the poor and to others.”
The annual pilgrimage was initiated in 2003 as a system-wide service project for Grade 7-12 students to raise awareness of social justice issues in the developing world – hunger, lack of clean, safe drinking water, and inadequate housing, education and health care – and to create a mechanism through which schools could commit their emotional and financial support. Twelve years later, the annual pilgrimage attracts thousands of students each year who give up part of their weekend to walk in solidarity with the poor and to raise money, through pledges, for development projects in Uganda, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In the past 12 years, the pilgrimage has raised more than $550,000 for ADESJO (Association for the Development of San José de Ocoa) in the Dominican Republic, the Catholic Diocese of Southwestern Uganda, St. Gabriel’s Parish in Beau Séjour, Haiti, the Holy Childhood Society, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
Thanking event organizers and facilitators for their good work, Chairperson Pat Daly commended them for being “such wonderful examples and giving witness to the students at your schools.”
He also thanked the students for supporting the pilgrimage on a day when they could be doing something else. “I want you to know how proud of you we are, not just today but every day, for the great things you do to help others.”
Quoting from a book he recently read, Daly said, “Today, the critical question is, ‘what makes a school’s Catholic identity compelling in the 21st century?’”
It’s a critical question not only for a school, but a school system, he suggested.
“There’s no clearer answer to that question than what we do today.”
“By walking with Christ, you not only serve the disadvantaged in our community, but serve the disadvantaged in other parts of the world,” said Daly.
Events like the pilgrimage are important, stressed Director of Education David Hansen; they give students an opportunity to translate the words and ideas they learn in the classroom into action and concrete activities on behalf the poor and oppressed.
“The Pope calls us to go out amongst the poor; we see this in so many things – DREAMS, Halloween for Hunger, and so many other activities,” he told the students.
“Today, as a Board, we continue that tradition and carry out the call from our Pope. As you walk, have no doubt that you are walking beside those most in need in the developing South.”
He reminded students of the words of Micah 6:8: “My prayer for you is that you have the courage to strive for justice, that you love the poor and marginalized gently, and that you walk humbly with God in service of those most in need.”
“If you do that,” he said, “you’re going to have a pretty good school year, your schools will be models of tolerance and welcome, and we will demonstrate for all that the students and staff of the HWCDSB are an essential voice of change for our city, our country and our world.”
Taking their message to the streets, the pilgrims travelled along Wentworth Street South to the escarpment rail trail, through the woods to the mountain brow, and along Mohawk Road to St. Anthony Daniel Catholic Elementary School for a total distance of 8-kilometres.
This year’s event is hoped to raise $40,000.