Sr. Johanna Jonker
WINNIPEG — It’s not Jerusalem or Rome, but a walk to Winnipeg’s social service agencies is a pilgrimage to holy ground all the same, says Sister Johanna Jonker.
Beginning in mid-September and continuing throughout the fall and winter, Jonker is leading groups on walking pilgrimages to seven sacred sites, many of them in the inner city.
“My hope is to bring people from two worlds together, to exchange information, to dialogue, to share, with the hopes of breaking down barriers, images and stereotypes,” says Jonker of the two-hour daytime pilgrimages to services agencies.
“When we go to places like that, we can be challenged in our faith to meet God in a different manner.”
Jonker is co-ordinator at Micah House, the Archdiocese of Winnipeg’s Catholic Centre for Social Justice.
More than informational tours, the series of pilgrimages, which set out from Micah House at 1039 Main St. at Magnus Ave., is meant to help people of any faith understand what is going on in their own backyard and how it connects to them, explains Jonker.
“It’s not a come and see,” says Jonker. “It’s not to be voyeuristic and we are not to look at it as us and them, and ‘we’ve got it made and they don’t.’ “
Pilgrims visiting the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre on Sept. 15 received a tour of the neighbourhood, were given an overview of the centre’s programs and met residents of the community, explained executive director Elaine Bishop, who also lives in the neighbourhood.
“I hope people will come away with an appreciation of the community we live in and the amazing skills and abilities of the people who live here.”
The pilgrimages will also visit Siloam Mission, a support facility for the poor and homeless, Artbeat Studio, which provides studio space for artists with mental illness, House of Hesed, a hospice for people with HIV/AIDS, the Main Street Project homeless shelter and Rossbrook House, a drop-in centre for children and youth.
The common link between the agencies is that they all deal with people who are suffering or in need, or in situations mainstream society considers unacceptable, says Jonker.
“I think Jesus would hang around with them,” she says of the people the pilgrims can expect to meet. “He hung around with all kinds of unacceptable people. Mental illness is unacceptable, being poor is unacceptable.”
The tours are free, although participants will be asked to write a reflection afterward.
Already signed up for four pilgrimages, Pat Hrynko expects to explore social justice issues within her own city alongside others who are interested in understanding the issues facing the service agencies. “It’s reaching out as a group of people and it will also educate me.”
None of the seven stops are overtly religious organizations, although a few, such as Siloam Mission and House of Hesed, are run by Christian groups. But Jonker says all of them are sacred because of the people who come there.
“The miracle (of the pilgrimage) is having our hearts opened to the suffering of the world,” she says. “I think sometimes all we have to do is to be present to the suffering and listen.”