By Kenneth J. Souza
HYANNIS, Mass. — Students at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis recently learned a little bit more about their faith while enjoying the scenic outdoors of Cape Cod as they embarked on a more than 12-mile pilgrimage to visit Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich — one of the designated Holy Door sites in the diocese for the Year of Mercy.
According to school chaplain, Father Ron Floyd, 68 students accompanied him and Head of School Christopher W. Keavy on the long walk from Hyannis to East Sandwich on April 15.
“We were really pleased with the number who went and they all made it except for one,” Father Floyd said. “One student had a cramp issue near the end, so she had to bow out.”
Although Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., designated two Holy Door sites on Cape Cod, Father Floyd said they opted to make Corpus Christi Parish their destination.
“We’re basically equidistant to the two Holy Doors, so we could have gone to one or the other in opposite directions,” Father Floyd said. “It would have been twice the distance to go to both, so we decided to go to Corpus Christi Parish because it was a little bit easier as far as walking conditions. We also stopped at Our Lady of Hope Chapel (in West Barnstable), where we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and then we continued on to Corpus Christi.”
Even though most of the students had never been on a pilgrimage before, Father Floyd said they were really up to the challenge and seemed to embrace it.
“I don’t think they knew that much about the pilgrimage side of it, so it was an opportunity to learn something about a central part of our faith,” Father Floyd said. “Pilgrimages come from the Old Testament, they come from the idea of Abraham and his descendants wandering looking for a homeland and it goes all the way through to the Book of Revelation — the idea that we are all pilgrim people on the way to the New Jerusalem, and we explained that throughout the day to give them a little bit of background about the idea of a pilgrimage. We also gave them the traditional pilgrim’s blessing at the beginning of the day.”
Having mapped out and traveled the 12.5-mile route himself a week earlier, Father Floyd said they ended up making a few adjustments along the way.
“We took a little detour because the kids were complaining that the last part of it was all off-road and they were getting tired going up and down hills, so we took a little bit more of a circuitous route,” he explained. “It probably ended up being more than 13 miles with the detour. The first six miles was all flat on the road, but there really is no flat sidewalk to get to Corpus Christi Parish.”
As such, a portion of the original route included a stretch along what is known as the “Trail of Tears” — a 1,200-acre tract of conservation land in West Barnstable.
“The Trail of Tears, being aptly named, is up and down and is all rocky,” Father Floyd said. “It was a little challenging after walking six miles on flat ground; it was a little bit of a passion to go up and down all those hills on rocky ground and sand, and the kids were complaining, but anything worth doing is worth suffering a little bit for.”
Upon reaching their ultimate destination, the group celebrated Mass together at Corpus Christi Church.
“It was really a providential chance that the first reading that day was the Road to Damascus and the Gospel passage was the Bread of Life — so between the two we had a beautiful little meditation at the end of the day before heading back to school,” Father Floyd said.
In addition to contributing to the students’ faith formation and providing a bit of exercise, the pilgrimage also raised more than $1,000 for the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Boys Seminary in Tanzania.
“We really wanted the kids to have some buy-in with the pilgrimage; we didn’t want them to just do it as a way of getting out of school,” Father Floyd said. “So we asked them to raise at least $10 each for the seminary in Africa. It really wasn’t a fund-raiser, per se, but we wanted them to have some sort of skin in the game and not have them doing it just to be goofing around. The kids who went all seemed very serious about it and I was very impressed.”
Father Floyd added that he was very happy the pilgrimage “went off without a hitch,” and he was thankful that the Barnstable Police provided a detail at one point to assure that everyone remained safe and that they had a couple of rest stops along the way — including Our Lady of Hope Chapel — to pray, meditate and rehydrate.
“The kids were all tired at the end of the day, but I was impressed that some of them had games that afternoon and they were in there playing,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of them being challenged to do it. They may complain about it, but they are able.”
Although this first-time pilgrimage was tied into the Year of Mercy, Father Floyd said they might make it an annual excursion.
“A couple of kids asked about doing it again next year, so we might do it again — maybe as a celebration for Easter,” he said.