Pope St. John Paul II, who had a passion for the great outdoors and used it to evangelize the Catholic faith, is inspiring others locally to do the same.
Suzi Porter, leader of a women’s Bible study group at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, was driving to a class last March when she felt called to start a Catholic hiking group and name it after the saint and former pope.
“Our former Pope loved the outdoors and I had seen pictures of him hiking and skiing and kayaking well into his senior years,” Porter says. “I thought what a great way for us as Catholics to adore God in nature, join with other Catholics, and have a non-threatening way to evangelize our family members and friends.”
The new Pope St. John Paul II Hiking Club at the Basilica is open to all. It has attracted Basilica parishioners, other local Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To broaden participation, the hikes are advertised in the parish’s Sunday bulletin and in the Waterbury Republican-American.
“Anyone is welcome to join,” Porter says. “We have had teenagers who came with family members, up to some much older. A minimal level of fitness is required, since we are out in the woods on uneven terrain. If the hike is a true ‘hike’ with a significant elevation gain, we note that so people can decide for themselves” if they are up to it.
The club typically hikes as a group once or twice a month.
“We hold most hikes on Sunday afternoons when Dan Mathews, our pastoral associate at the Basilica, is available to join us,” Porter adds. “In the summer when it is very hot, I hold a few hikes early on Saturday mornings so that we can be finished before the heat of the day sets in.”
A winter hike took the club to Burr Pond in Torrington, while a spring outing introduced members to Kettletown State Park in Southbury.
All hikes begin with introductions, a prayer and a quote from Pope St. John Paul II.
During one unique hike, the group did what is known as the “Emmaus Walk,” which builds supportive friendships. “The idea behind the Emmaus Walk is that if two people walk prayerfully together, Jesus will walk with them,” Mathews explains.
“So we break up the hikers into pairs,” he says, “and the idea is that for the first half of the walk one person does all the talking, usually about something that’s pressing on the person’s soul, and the other person silently listens and prays all the while. Then on the way back, they switch, and the one who did all the talking now does all the listening and praying.”
The next two hikes are scheduled for September:
Sunday, Sept. 10, 1:30 p.m., at Wadsworth Falls State Park, 721 Wadsworth St., Middletown. The park straddles the Middletown-Middlefield line.
On Sunday, Sept. 24 at 1:30 p.m., the group will revisit Kettletown State Park, 1400 Georges Hill Road, Southbury.
To attend a hike, e-mail Suzie Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on future hikes, check archdioceseofhartford.org/events or the Sunday bulletin at waterburybasilica.org.
By Shelley Wolf