Holy Trinity’s students and staff embraced the Share the Journey program, walking over 20,000 kilometres to help refugees. Photo courtesy Holy Trinity School

Fire sets off an inspiring journey

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 27, 2019

EDMONTON -- Having survived the Fort McMurray wildfire, they feel solidarity with displaced persons.

Students and staff at the Alberta community’s Holy Trinity School have walked almost halfway around the world to help Development and Peace care for people whose lives have been uprooted.

It’s a situation many of them experienced firsthand after the devastating 2016 wildfire.

At the time of the wildfire, Grade 12 student Sarah Reid and her family left their home behind and travelled a smoke-shrouded highway to Edmonton. Displaced for over a month, they worried each day that their home may be razed by flames and reduced to ashes.

While their home was spared, Reid says the experience certainly made Development and Peace’s Share the Journey campaign that much more impactful.

“We had people at our school that did lose their homes and went through a lot more than I did,” said Reid. “For the whole school, it made us realize the impact of being displaced and what it’s like to lose everything.”

Over the 40 days of Lent, Holy Trinity students and staff set a goal of walking in solidarity — and raising money — for Development and Peace to help some of the estimated 68.5 million refugees, evacuees and other displaced people around the world.

D&P set a Lenten campaign goal of walking the circumference of the Earth, 40,075 kilometres. Holy Trinity students and staff alone ended up walking half that ­— 20,439 kilometres. The school’s initial goal was to walk 2,500 kilometres.

“When I was putting in those final numbers, my jaw was dropping,” said Chris Poulsen, the teaching chaplain at the Grade 7-12 school.

“We’re really want to do something that tangibly changes the hearts of the young people at our school, and the old people too, the teachers!”

Poulsen introduced the Share the Journey campaign during the Ash Wednesday assembly. Every classroom received a poster, a grid to show their daily step record, a copy of a prayer, lessons and activities, and a Development and Peace magazine as well as more than 80 step counters.

Poulsen said the 1,222 students and 109 staff at Holy Trinity embraced the program immediately, so much so that it has grown beyond a simple fundraising activity.

They would centre themselves in prayer and in solidarity with displaced persons, then record their steps for every activity, regardless of how mundane it may have seemed. Instead of faith being one part of daily life for staff and students, it was ingrained in every aspect, Poulsen said.

“It wasn’t just a walk. It was a cultural shift,” he explained. It was no longer ‘I’m just going to the bathroom.’ It was ‘I’m going to say this prayer, get in solidarity and then I’m going to stick this step counter on.’ We’re going to actually think about what we’re doing all the time. We’re going to try to maintain a state of prayerful solidarity in our everyday life.”

The theme of displaced persons seemed like a natural fit for Holy Trinity.

“In 2016, we became displaced people here in Fort McMurray,” Poulsen said. “It seemed like we could have a very personal connection to it. They got it. Some of them were living on a cot at Northlands (in Edmonton). These are kids and teachers who did this. They evacuated a wildfire. They know what it’s like.”

The wildfire forced the entire population of Fort McMurray, more than 83,000 people, to flee their homes.

Holy Trinity’s Share the Journey campaign culminated on April 10, with an official all-school walk for three kilometres — in the rain. Students and staff also raised more than $1,500 for Development and Peace.

Poulsen said he’s convinced the school’s Lenten project will have lasting effects for years, but walking a record distance wasn’t the objective.

“The goal was to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. The goal was to do Christ’s work on Earth,” Poulsen said.

That goal was strong motivation for Reid. 

“Our teachers told us about how important this was, that it wasn’t about the money. It was about helping people in other countries. And we just really drew on that,” she said.

Reid did her part for the campaign over a month-long period, walking around the school and counting her steps after her religion class each week. While she can’t recall the total number of kilometres she contributed, she says with a laugh that it was definitely a lot.

“It was a beautiful match. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m thoroughly impressed at how they grabbed onto this,” said Kathleen Ladouceur, the Catholic schools program officer with Development and Peace. “They did this without competitions. There were no pizza parties. There were no prizes for people who walked those kilometres. This really was an engagement of prayer and solidarity for them.”

(Grandin Media)

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