Above-average temperatures made the morning of May 1 an ideal time for a stroll, but many pedestrians in Corning and Painted Post would have hit the pavement regardless of weather conditions.
This was due to the profound intent of their walks: to pray for the people and homes of their communities.
Approximately 100 people turned out for a first-time ecumenical prayer walk led by All Saints Parish (St. Mary and St. Vincent de Paul churches, Corning; and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Painted Post). The event was held in conjunction with National Day of Prayer, which falls annually on May 6.
It began at 10 a.m. with a brief time of prayer in downtown Corning at the city’s Centerway Stage. Maps were then distributed with prayer routes of one to two miles each for Corning and the neighboring village of Painted Post. Most people walked and some drove their routes, praying for every home they passed using either spoken or silent prayers of their own choosing.
Deacon Dean Condon, All Saints’ pastoral administrator who organized the walk, said participants largely accomplished their goal of praying over every street and home in Corning and Painted Post. He added that the initiative involved three main objectives: that God would bless the homes and people; that God would protect these Steuben County residents from all harm and evil; and that more people would become open to the Gospel.
Deacon Condon said he conceived the prayer walk after being reminded of the power of prayer during a conference he attended this past winter, when he learned of missionaries who prayed over towns in India prior to beginning their work and then saw noticeably positive results from their ministry. He also likened the walk to Chapter 10 in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus sends out 72 people who go from town to town in his name.
Many walkers were from All Saints Parish, and several area Protestant churches took part as well. Deacon Condon said he felt strongly about making this an ecumenical event to reinforce the notion of Christian unity, though some churches declined to join in because it was not organized by their own denomination.
Trish LaFortune, pastoral associate at All Saints, acknowledged the need for Corning-Painted Post churches to heighten their ecumenism — Catholics included — with initiatives such as the prayer walk.
"There are some things that take place (ecumenically) but not a lot. I think that was one of the intents Dean wanted to try and impress upon (All Saints) people, that Christianity is not isolated to the building. We can do things together and it’s not weird," LaFortune remarked.
By the same token, Deacon Condon said he didn’t demand that parishioners commit beforehand to the prayer walk, figuring participation would be more sincere that way.
"I didn’t want to twist people’s arms. I wanted it to be low-key and leave it up to them to follow through," he said.
That same low-key approach carried over into how walkers conducted themselves on May 1: no door-knocking, no proselytizing, no intrusiveness.
"We asked (our) people not to go on private property, not to confront or greet people unless they initiated it," Deacon Condon said. He explained that he wished to avoid confrontation and controversy while also reassuring All Saints members who were leery of drawing attention to themselves by being part of the prayer walk.
"We’re kind of timid, to be honest," Deacon Condon said of Catholics in general.
After completing their routes — most took slightly more than an hour — many participants went back to St. Mary Church in Corning and shared their experiences; one group reported that it ended up helping a man who was moving unload his van. Deacon Condon said the general consensus was one of enthusiasm — that local prayer walks should be repeated a minimum of once per year, perhaps monthly, with some people possibly incorporating prayer walking into their exercise group.
LaFortune said she considered the May 1 walk to be "extremely successful" for a first-time event that was pulled together quickly.
"It was a great blessing, very well-received," Deacon Condon agreed, adding that he hopes other Catholic parishes will seek similar multidenominational prayer initiatives in their communities.