Pilgrimage examines justice issues - Catholic Courier

Pilgrimage examines justice issues

It’s somewhat rare for a sightseeing tour to take place in one’s home town, especially when the community is small with few tourist attractions. However, the trip designed by a group from St. James Church in Waverly was geared toward viewing ordinary sights in a new way.

Nine teens and adults conducted a “justice pilgrimage” in the Waverly area June 28-29. This initiative, held in conjunction with an ongoing social-awareness program at the church, spurred participants to examine such issues as poverty and religious differences. For instance, on the first day, the group visited economically deprived parts of this Tioga County village and also stopped outside a well-maintained bank building.

“You could see the difference, how some buildings are kept up nice and some aren’t,” said Rachael Fagan, 16, one of the teen participants.

“We went through these sections where the buildings are boarded up. On one street you could hear a lot of yelling and screaming, and obviously it was not the most pleasant street in the world,” said Ellen Keough, who has worked with the group in her role as faith-formation coordinator at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes, of which St. James is a worship site. (Keough recently became a pastoral associate for the parishes.)

Debbie Kennedy, an adult leader, said the pilgrimage was designed “to see the difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.'” Keough added it sought to provoke serious thought, saying, “The idea was, we didn’t go to McDonald’s and those kind of things.”

Kennedy’s son Nate, 15, observed that traveling by foot rather than car aided in this deeper reflection.

“It allowed you to think about what you had just seen,” he said.

The group later visited a small Jewish synagogue and looked through its windows. At each stop participants reflected, prayed and bestowed a blessing on the site. Rachael said passers-by didn’t know what to make of the activity, noting that “especially by the bank, we got some weird looks.”

Yet Keough said the group wasn’t being deliberately conspicuous.

“We didn’t do anything like stand out and protest. We just sat and talked, and had journals we would write in,” she said.

The second day started with a Mass at St. James Church celebrated by Father Thomas Watts, the former St. James pastor who is now retired. The group then visited Tioga Outreach Center, a Catholic Charities facility that provides food, clothing, supplies and services for people in need. From there the teens and adults traveled by car to the office of Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed, a pediatrician in Sayre, Pa., just over the Waverly border. They visited a mosque upstairs from his office, where Ahmed explained his Islamic beliefs and culture. Finally the group visited the campus of Guthrie Clinic, a health-care complex in Sayre.

For both Rachael and Nate, the mosque ranked as the most memorable part of their pilgrimage.

“Seeing how different religions worship, and what they do — I thought it was interesting,” Rachael said.

“It taught me a lot. Dr. Ahmed gave me these booklets filled with different facts from Islam. That was extremely cool,” Nate remarked.

He added that he has Islamic friends, but following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “there are a lot of people that are prejudiced (who) believe that all people of Islam are evil and trying to destroy Americans.”

“It was important for them to experience another faith structure,” Debbie Kennedy said, referring to the mosque as well as the synagogue. “At this age, the more you can quell ignorance the more service you do teenagers.”

The pilgrimage sites were selected by Kennedy and Leslie Fagan, who is Rachael’s mother. Both adults have been highly active in parish and community outreach in the Waverly area.

“The biggest thing we wanted them to do was get a greater sense of awareness in our community. This is a small little town and they can get a narrow vision of what life is like,” Fagan said.

Kennedy and Fagan, along with Keough, oversee “JustFaith,” a national program of Catholic Charities that seeks to increase social-justice education and awareness. Other teen participants in both JustFaith and the June 28-29 pilgrimage were the sister pairings of Caitlyn and Bethann Parmelee, and Carol and Julia Pacheco. The group has been meeting for several months at St. James and has also made visits to the Tioga Nursing Facility, where members play games and sing songs with residents.

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