Why Champaign parishioners are “walking to Jerusalem”

CHAMPAIGN — Walking is a wonderful form of exercise, but it doesn’t take most of us any farther than around the block or the track at the local school a few times.

But what if those laps could take you to Jerusalem and increase your relationship with God at the same time?

Members of Holy Cross Parish here have made that their goal during Lent for two years. While they had hoped to log the 6,310 miles needed by Easter, their current journey has taken them a combined 4,830 miles so far and will continue until Pentecost, according to Karen Olivero, the parish nurse who got the “Walk to Jerusalem” started.

“As a parish nurse I’m supposed to promote health and healthy practices and I thought this was a good way to do it,” she explained. “It was also a good opportunity to come together as a parish community around a common goal.”

“Walk to Jerusalem” and “Walk to Bethlehem” are programs developed by St. John Providence Health System parish nursing, which is based in Warren, Mich. Both are designed to increase the physical, spiritual and emotional health of participants.

While the “Walk to Jerusalem” takes people on a trip to the Holy Land during Lent and Easter, the “Walk to Bethlehem” starts in the fall so participants can reach the birthplace of Christ in time for Christmas.

In order to get the journey started at Holy Cross, Olivero said she calculated the number of miles (“as the crow flies”) between Champaign and Jerusalem. “That takes us — if you draw a straight line — through New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean and northern Africa and on to Israel,” she said.

Before Lent began parishioners were invited to walk and turn in their miles each week so Olivero could track how far they had come — and how far they still needed to go to make their 6,310 miles. Their progress has been charted on maps of the world in the church foyer and the parish hall.

“What amazes me is the people who participate,” Olivero told The Catholic Post.

“There is one person who is 92 years old and living in an assisted care facility that has walked up and down the hallways. Twenty minutes counts as one mile,” she said. “People who can’t walk . . . can also do wheelchair exercises for 20 minutes.”

Olivero added that she has been encouraging families to walk together either as a before-dinner or after-dinner activity.

But the physical aspect is only half of the “exercise,” she said, noting that what sets the “Walk to Jerusalem” apart is the emphasis on prayer.

“While you are walking, be sure you are praying,” she told parishioners in the parish bulletin. “You may say the rosary, pray the Stations of the Cross or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or any other prayers you may choose. The idea is to walk in prayer.”

Among the 140 walkers are about 50 children in Holy Cross School’s aftercare program. To keep them focused on why they’re doing what they’re doing, director Penny Devall wrote a prayer, “Walk with Me Jesus,” that they say before they circumnavigate the block each afternoon.

When they return, they say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the Glory Be, Devall said, noting that if they pray before and after the activity then some of the children can sprint from corner to corner.

In addition to walking, the students sometimes jump rope, with an hour estimated at about two miles each. “They enjoy doing it and if they’re spending such a long time we count it toward our ‘Walk to Jerusalem,'” she said.

“I would like to think that for some of them it got them a little bit closer to God,” she told The Post. “I hope it will also teach them about teamwork, cooperating and how we can all work together. And maybe it has helped to improve their health a little.”

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