Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
April 16, 2001
Priest heads down the trail
Grande Cache pastor to begin six-month hike of Appalachian Trail
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Grande Cache is gearing up for the walk of a lifetime.
Father Isagani Avinante has his backpack filled with 45 to 50 pounds of necessities and is ready to head down the trail.
The Appalachian Trail, that is. Three thousand, four hundred and seventy kilometres of hiking that he expects will take six months.
By the end of this week, Avinante expects to start his 150-day hike, while resting one day a week and averaging 24 kms a day with that heavy pack on his back.
Contained in his pack is a small Mass kit, with a tiny chalice and paten, crucifix, icon of Mary, altar cloths, stole, hosts, wine, Bible and other essentials.
"This is the centrepiece of my entire backpack," says the 48-year-old priest as he spreads out the items from the Mass kit.
Avinante has been serving in the Edmonton Archdiocese for seven years after coming from the Philippines.
He describes his journey as an act of penance for his sins and those of others as he prepares for the 25th anniversary of his ordination in December.
He's been given an eight-month sabbatical by the archdiocese and has even lined up a replacement, Father Ferdinand Sablan, who came from the Philippines to take his place in Grande Cache while he's away.
Hiking is not a new thing for Avinante. In the Philippines, he occasionally took young people on hikes and celebrated Mass in the mountains with them. He's carried on the same tradition since coming to Alberta, with youth from the parishes he's served in Sherwood Park, Trochu and Grande Cache. And four years ago, he hiked the Inca Trail in Peru.
The Grande Cache parish has an outdoor altar, so in the summer Avinante celebrates weekday Masses for the parish there.
And when he returns to the town, he hopes it will be a destination for foreign youth who come to the archdiocese prior to World Youth Day in July 2002.
He sees this outdoor ministry as a way to encourage religious vocations. He wants young people to realize it's possible to have good clean fun and still be committed to the priesthood.
It's also an opportunity to witness the faith to people he meets during his journey. "I don't usually introduce myself as a priest at first. I find it very challenging to witness to my priesthood without telling them I am one."
Talking with a tour guide for the Appalachian Trail, Avinante learned that many people start the hike as an outdoor experience but that it becomes a spiritual journey for them.
"That has always been clear in my mind - that this will be a spiritual journey," he said.
"There are very important mountains in the life of Christ," he said, noting the mountains of the temptation, the Transfiguration, the crucifixion and even the Sermon on the Mount.
"I expect to experience the same things Jesus experienced on his own mountains."
He got the idea of hiking the trail when he was still living in the Philippines and had no plans of moving to Canada. He read in a Catholic newspaper about an American priest who had hiked the Appalachian Trail as a way of celebrating his 25th anniversary. The idea connected with him.
Now he is making it his own project. Avinante plans to write short reflections, celebrate Sunday Mass at towns along the way and to find other ways to minister to those he meets.
"If they would be interested, I would welcome them to join me in my (weekday) Mass."
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