Sightseeing tours of this nature don’t occur every day.
Approximately 75 middle- and high-school youths, as well as several parents and youth ministers, united for a 90-minute prayer walk through downtown Ithaca in the late afternoon of Sunday, March 13. All five Tompkins County parishes were strongly represented: Immaculate Conception in Ithaca, which served as host; St. Catherine of Siena in Ithaca; Holy Cross in Dryden; St. Anthony in Groton; and All Saints in Lansing.
Modeling Jesus’ Passion walk, participants recited a decade of the rosary at each of five stops: Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga; Ten Thousand Villages, a retail store that helps generate fair income for Third World people by selling their handicrafts; Ithaca Pregnancy Center; Ithaca Planned Parenthood; and Loaves & Fishes, a hospitality ministry based at St. John’s Episcopal Church that provides free meals.
Sites were selected based on their outreach efforts to the poor and vulnerable. A notable exception was Planned Parenthood, which was singled out in prayerful protest of the organization’s practice of performing abortions.
The walk was a success in the eyes of St. Catherine of Siena’s Greg Colucci. “We really liked just going to all the different places. That was basically the highlight — each station was something new,” said Greg, 16.
“It was kind of like giving a thank-you note to all the places that are helping,” remarked Joanna Barrett, 11, from All Saints. Joanna added that the experience was also informative; for instance, she hadn’t know how much counseling and other services are available through Ithaca Pregnancy Center.
Nicole Volkert, 14, from Holy Cross, said she learned “that there’s people out there to help — people who can’t get jobs and can’t care for themselves, and don’t have a lot of money.”
“It made you realize a little bit more about what happens to the poor people,” said Jessica Benedict, 12, from Immaculate Conception.
Greg noted that youths were instructed to remain silent as they moved from site to site, and that passersby took notice of the large gathering.
“When we were (praying) at Ten Thousand Villages, a group of people slowed down wondering what we were doing. I heard somebody say ‘Oh, we have to be quiet now,'” he said.
This effort was patterned after similar events that took place at the Diocesan Youth Convention last summer, where Catholic social teaching was interwoven with firsthand views of outreach facilities and the people they serve in the City of Rochester. Carolann Darling, youth minister at St. Anthony’s, explained that many young people in her area had been unable to attend the Rochester convention due to distance, so the Tompkins youth ministers jointly planned this localized first-time initiative.
Just as the sun was setting in Ithaca and already-brisk conditions were becoming chillier, the group moved inside Immaculate Conception Church. There, a closing service featured prayer, song and reflections, with each participant holding a lit votive candle and processing around the church to observe the Stations of the Cross.
“There was kind of this sense of awe,” Joanna said of the candlelight service’s spiritual setting.
“All this really helped hit home how much Jesus suffered for us and set the tone for the next two weeks (leading up to Easter),” observed Drew Montreuil, 16, from St. Anthony’s.
Youths and adults then enjoyed a pizza party before dispersing back to their respective communities. The March 13 gathering was the latest in a series of efforts by Tompkins youth ministers to promote multiparish events — and Drew, for one, would welcome similar regional get-togethers in the future.
“I thought that expanding to include other parishes was a great idea,” he said, adding that he enjoyed the chance to “meet other youth who share the same beliefs.”
“I thought it was interesting how we could all come together and do one thing, and not have to feel like we’re separated,” Nicole agreed.