Notre Dame students take a big walk of faith
More than 1,000 Notre Dame students, as well as faculty, family, alumni and hundreds of students from feeder schools teamed up to participate in a 15-kilometre trek Sunday morning.
And thousands more participated in the “very powerful experience” at schools throughout Niagara and across Ontario, said Notre Dame College School principal Ralph Defazio.
The annual pilgrimage began as a tradition at Notre Dame 41 years ago, and has since expanded to Catholic high schools throughout the region, and across the province.
“It actually started right here with our pilgrimage,” Defazio told participants as they were preparing to leave on the walk to Dain City and back to the Smith Street school.
“You need to be proud of that, to say this is where it started and I’m part of that.”
In addition to Notre Dame, several Catholic high schools in Niagara held similar events including Lakeshore Catholic in Port Colborne, Blessed Trinity in Grimsby, Denis Morris, Holy Cross and St. Francis in St. Catharines, Lakeshore Catholic in Port Colborne, and Saint Michael and Saint Paul in Niagara Falls.
Hamilton Catholic high schools participated in pilgrimages in their community as well.
Note Dame religion teacher Carol Berkhout was impressed by the participation in the pilgrimage this year, particularly by the number of Grade 8 students who joined from feeder schools.
“It’s amazing,” she said, as she walked along the trail beside Welland Recreational Canal.
She said some of the feeder school challenged the students to participate and they rose to the occasion.
As the students participated in the pilgrimage, Defazio said people in communities that benefit from their efforts “are also very much in solidarity with us and connected with us as we walk our pilgrimage, thinking of us and praying for us.”
Defazio said students were given several incentives to meet fundraising targets, such as an out of uniform day if they brought in $41,000.
If students reached $45,000 “we give the students a couple of shaved heads,” and if they topped $50,000 several female teachers agreed to dye their hair green.
Berkhout said the students fell a little short of reaching the incentives, bringing in $38,000.
Nevertheless, she was pleased with the funds raised, to be divvied up among Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and specifically victims of Hurricane Matthew; the Yancana Huasy centre for special needs children in Lima, Peru; and communities in the Dominican Republic.
“There was a lot of money coming in this morning, that’s for sure,” she said.
Other schools supported different causes. Saint Michael, for instance, dedicates its walk to the children of Rwanda; while proceeds from Lakeshore Catholic’s Gatorwalk are provided to support efforts in Dominica.
Defazio said told the students: “What we do today is so much for our community and hundreds in the developing world who will be helped by our acts.”
“The pilgrimage is not just a walk — it’s a walk of faith,” Defazio said.