Celebrating 55 years of Solidarity – Walkathon 1968 for CCODP

A photo of the May 1968 Walkathon group from St. Patrick School, Swift Current, published in the local newspaper – student and staff were raising funds and awareness for the newly-formed Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. (Photo by staff of The Swift Current Sun, courtesy of Sr. Teresita Kambeitz, OSU).

This year marks the 55th Anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Do you remember a Development and Peace-Caritas Canada campaign or activity which touched your heart? Each week during Lent we will feature one such story.

By Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU

I believe it was from the Prairie Messenger during Lent of 1968 that I first learned about this new social justice organization with the long name: the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP).

I was intrigued with the revised meaning that the Catholic bishops of Canada, through CCODP, gave to Lenten fasting, namely, that the money saved on food was to be shared with the poor. I liked that.

As principal of St. Patrick School in Swift Current at the time, I wondered how we could introduce this new practical theology to our students.

I had heard about the previous year’s “Miles For Millions” campaign, a rather novel project that was introduced into Canada during the Centennial year, in which thousands of young people took part in walkathons to raise funds to ease hunger in the world.  I read what I could about how a walkathon is done, merged the idea with CCODP, presented it to our teaching staff and then to our Grade 7&8 students.

As reported later in the local newspaper, it was said that Sister Teresita told the students that as members of a Catholic school they should be doing something concrete to show concern for the poor. I was quoted as saying, “I wonder if the students of St. Pat’s will walk even a matter of yards for the poor of the world?”

The idea caught fire. The route selected was a 26-mile gravel road stretching from the city southward to Lac Pelletier and the date was set for Saturday, May 11, 1968. In this 93% non-Catholic city, both the local radio station and newspaper supported the cause enthusiastically by advertising the project and calling for donors.

Seventy-six students and four teachers from St. Patrick School – Sister Bonaventure, Howard Jakubec, Armand Gauthier and I – set out at 8  a.m. that windy, dusty morning accompanied by several parents driving trucks carrying water, snacks and other supplies.

We were also joined by CKSW radio announcer, Ed Wallace, who, though not Catholic, was so impressed with this project that he took part in the walkathon, reported the marchers’ progress hourly over the radio and also raised the third highest amount of money.

That week the Swift Current Sun carried the bold headline 14 Marchers Complete Course, More than $2,000 Pledged.  Its extensive front page coverage with photos began thus: “The poor people of the world will be enriched by $2,568 earned Saturday by a marathon walk of more than 80 persons from Swift Current to Lac Pelletier…”

The article continued: “Despite blisters, tiredness and walking against a high wind, spirits were high along the route, with singing, laughing, riddles and gaiety. The outstanding enthusiasm of the children was marked in many ways: young Mary Ellen Polley walked two miles with the aid of crutches, following a leg operation; because of a recent toe operation; David Hogarth walked 15 miles with a layer of socks on the injured foot, even though he had no sponsors; another boy eventually was forced to remove his shoes from his blistered feet and walked the rest of the way barefoot.”

Over 50 walkers completed 21 or more miles. Of the girls, Marcie Lines walked the furthest, totalling 24 miles while five other girls walked 23 miles. Fourteen boys and three men completed the 25.9 mile hike. Fourteen-year-old Richard Bolt, who raised the highest amount, ran the last mile to the lake.  Sister Bonaventure completed 21 miles while I stopped after mile 20.

The walkathon end was celebrated at Lac Pelletier with a picnic at which the hungry walkers consumed wieners, donuts and cokes provided by the city’s merchants.  At 8 p.m. cars arrived to transport the weary marchers home.

Even with blistered feet, the walkers experienced joy in their achievement.  They and their supporters felt they had responded generously to the Canadian Bishops’ initiative designed to help developing countries help themselves.

Related: Ready, Set – CREATE HOPE – Link to Reflection about Share Lent theme

Related: Celebrating 55 years of Solidarity through Development and Peace – Link to Reflection about Share the Journey 2019


A historical note:

“In 1967, the Canadian bishops launched the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace as a creative new way to assist the poor and oppressed peoples of the world in  their struggle for justice…To realize this vision, the new organization devoted many of its resources to building an integrated social movement that educated Canadians about global injustice and mobilized them for action…The origins of Development and Peace were at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  Working closely with their colleagues from Latin America, Africa and Asia, the Canadian bishops became increasingly aware of the massive poverty and systemic injustices that confronted the developing world…”  –  Page 13 of the book Jubilee, 50 Years of Solidarity by Peter Baltutis.