Educating for Justice


By Father Jim Mulligan, CSC

My first assignment as a Holy Cross Father in 1969 was to teach religion and French at Notre Dame College School in Welland.

In 1976, after a sabbatical in France to advance my studies, I returned to Notre Dame to teach religion. I proposed to the principal and several key teachers at the school the idea of a pilgrimage – a holy walk. The idea had been percolating in my mind since my studies in Paris, where I had participated in a pilgrimage, walking with university students from Paris to the magnificent cathedral of Chartres.

I was very taken with the notion of a pilgrimage as metaphor for faith and life. I imagined three pillars that would serve as a foundation for such an endeavour: Fundraising to support projects in a developing country, witnessing to faith and educating for justice.

The fundraising effort of Miles for Millions, a Canadian campaign launched in 1967 to raise funds to alleviate world hunger, had ended, creating the opportunity for a similar initiative to assist the developing world from here in Niagara. The idea was simple: Pilgrims would raise money for each kilometre they walked, with the money raised divided between supporting a Holy Cross mission in Bangladesh, India or Peru, and The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

The faith experience is the second pillar of the pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is a faith experience, a walk to a holy place. As Niagara does not have a shrine for Pilgrims to walk to, another location is designated as the holy site. Once there, pilgrims participate in Mass. In most instances, this is the school gym, although pilgrims from Denis Morris Catholic High School, Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School and Saint Francis Catholic Secondary School in St. Catharines each walk from their individual schools to the Market Square in downtown, where they share the Eucharist and walk in solidarity, before returning to their own schools after lunch. In Niagara Falls, Saint Michael Catholic High School and Saint Paul Catholic High School take turns hosting the event. At Notre Dame College School, where the Pilgrimage originated, a candlelight service is held at the end of each walk. One flame becomes many, as light is spread throughout the assembly.

Educating for justice is a vital piece of the pilgrimage experience.

The preparation for the walk that takes place in the school and across the curriculum in the weeks leading up to Pilgrimage Sunday is the third pillar to the pilgrimage experience.

Over the past 39 years, a different question of justice and peace has been presented, giving students the opportunity to reflect on Catholic social teachings. By pondering these questions, students develop critical thinking skills that encourage them to think beyond what they see or read. It is important to show people how modern society often makes it easy to stray from gospel teachings; and equally important to impress upon students the way in which we are all interconnected and interdependent, making us responsible for one another.

Nearly four decades have passed since the first Pilgrimage took place in Welland. Thousands of miles have been walked in support of people in developing nations around the world. That it has withstood the changing times, and grown to become one of the most anticipated dates on the school year calendar proves it is a very important part of life in our Catholic high schools. It is also very important to the communities that have benefitted from some of the $2.6 million raised.

Source: Showcase, Fall 2014