The Society of St. Vincent de Paul report offers a mini-Camino pilgrimage of transformation, a full day 6KM walk for Grade 7-10 students. The program aims to foster goal setting skills and Christian inspiration for students to lead a social justice project in their schools, or to do some kind of service for people in need, especially through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
When director Emilio Estevez’ feature narrative film “The Way” starring Martin Sheen was released in 2011, audiences across the United States and many countries were introduced for the first time to the ancient pilgrimage route “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. “The Way” is a fictional story about an American eye doctor who takes his deceased son’s place on the Camino and is transformed.
The following report by Derek McEachen describe the innovative service pilgrimage.
In November 2013, Grade 7 and 10 students from the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board (Ontario) participated in a Catholic Leadership Symposium and Camino in collaboration with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Particular Council of Brant. This was followed up with an April 2014 retreat for the students, who at that time brought Grade 6 and 9 partner students to share in their learning and experience.
At the November event, pairs of students with demonstrated leadership skills from pilot elementary schools accompanied students leaders from Assumption College secondary school on a full-day 6 km walking pilgrimage from St. Mary’s Church to Assumption College school, with planned stops on the ways (e.g. SSVP Valu Shoppe; lunch location to hear social justice guest speakers; etc.). The expectations of this experience were to offer goal setting skills and Christian inspiration for students to lead a social justice project in their schools, or to do some kind of service for people in need, especially through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The November day began with Mass at St. Mary parish in Brantford. Mass was followed by a parish hall session on leadership and Catholic Social Teaching, and then a session on being called to serve. After a nutrition break, students began two “faith in action” sessions in rotation: the first session was an introduction to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; the second session involved preparing prayer kits and lunches for the SSVP volunteers and “neighbours in need” currently at the Valu Shoppe.
Accompanied by parish priests, a lay pastoral associate, secondary school chaplaincy leaders, and board and SSVP representatives, our prepared student group embarked on a walk from St. Mary parish hall to the SSVP Valu Shoppe and a local coffee shop for lunch (1/2 the group went to the Valu Shoppe while the other group had lunch with social justice guest speakers … then the ½ groups switched locations, so the SSVP shop could accommodate the visitors).
Upon arrival at the Valu Shoppe, students shared the prepared lunches and prayer kits with the volunteers and some of the “neighbours in need”. In the Valu Shoppe, volunteers (including extra SSVP staff who ensured the students’ presence did not interfere with meeting the needs of SSVP clientele) were prepared to receive pairs of students to have a “hands on” working experience in the various aspects of volunteering at the Valu Shoppe. Students sorted food, labelled clothing, repaired watches, dusted furniture, and participated in a mock home visit. Students were so engaged that many didn’t want to leave for the next part of the day.
At the lunch location, our two Christian social justice guest speakers were Aaron Huybens and Annaleise Carr. Aaron, as a teenager, was involved in gathering bike parts to make working bicycles to be given away to people in need of transportation. Annaleise Carr is a well known swimmer who has raised over $250,000 for Camp Trillium, beginning with her famous swim across Lake Ontario. She shared a wonderful story of how God was present to her during her swim of service for young people in need.
After lunch and the visit to the SSVP shop, the pilgrims continued their hike to Assumption College (a genuine camino) along existing Brantford trails, sharing thoughts and ideas. Although the pastoral associate had prepared reflection questions for students, the conversation arose naturally because of the impact of the day. The walk was a wonderful time to enjoy nature, unwind from the intense learning experience, and to just be in good company.
Upon arrival at Assumption College, students learned about setting SMARTERRR goals (specific; measurable; attainable; relevant; timely; ethical; religious; recorded; revisited) in preparing to initiate a social justice project in their school communities. Students would follow up on their goals between the end of our day together and their April retreat (at a different parish location), where they had a chance to share the good work that they had done to that point; some students’ social justice projects began after the retreat. At the elementary and secondary schools, a “Bed for Every Child” campaign took off; some students raised funds and collected non-perishable food; other students led school-based collections of winter clothing – all excellent projects in aid of SSVP and our “neighbours in need” with deeply appreciated results.
The November day of pilgrimage and the April retreat were both permeated with a Spirit of prayer and service. The April retreat also involved the Grade 7 and 10 students welcoming Grade 6 and 9 “buddies” to join the movement, to be explicitly connected in mission and service with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and in preparation for next year’s Catholic Leadership Symposium and Camino, which will hopefully grow to include more elementary and secondary schools.
Derek McEachen O.C.T., B.A., B.Ed., M.R.E., M.T.S., M.Ed.
Department Head of Religious Education, Social Sciences, and Humanities
St. John’s College
80 Paris Rd, Brantford, ON N3R 1H7
SSVP, Particular Council of Brant
You may be interested in a similar program, Journey to Adulthood, for youth of the Episcopal Church.