A pilgrimage of trust: Hugs, high-fives help build trust, erase divide

Kathryn Ziesig | kathrynziesig@archstl.org
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Wearing red hats and purple dresses, a handful of women from Galilee Baptist Church on Delmar Boulevard in the Central West End of St. Louis waved and shouted while receiving hugs and high-fives from participants in the Walk of Trust who passed by their church.

The walk on the afternoon of May 28 was part of the weekend-long St. Louis Pilgrimage of Trust taking place in St. Louis May 26-29. The walk was intended to be a first step toward healing deep divisions in the community that have surfaced since the unrest in Ferguson.

Bertha Riley, a Galilee Baptist Church member, said she stayed on the sidelines and showed support because a "balking" back prevented her from walking. A few young people from the church took part, Riley said. "We were waiting on y'all," she said, calling the walk "beautiful" and admiring the many smiles. "This is what we really need. It's a blessing."

Earlier on Taylor Avenue near Delmar, Tre Clark, on his way to work at a Schnucks grocery store on Lindell Boulevard, stopped his bike to ask a reporter and photographer what motivated the group of 500-600 people who were accompanied by police patrol cars that blocked traffic. He was relieved that they had a positive message and it wasn't a problem that instigated the walk.

"I appreciate people who want to make a difference," Clark said. "There's been a lot of bad out here lately and not enough good."

Among the many young adults on the walk was Sean O'Rourke, who attends the Catholic Student Center at Washington University. He said the walk was important because it "brings the Church out into the world, beyond the sanctuary to make a statement for peace, justice and conversation, to be the Body of Christ."

The walk and pilgrimage were led by the brothers of the Taizé Community of France, in collaboration with churches of different Christian denominations.

The idea of holding the ecumenical Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis came from Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who wrote a letter to the Taizé brothers, who have a charism of ecumenism and reconciliation. In inviting the Taizé Community, Archbishop Carlson underlined his concern for the need to rebuild relations between factions in the area, especially after the events in Ferguson following a police-involved shooting death in August 2014 that seemed to split the community.

The trust events are the culmination of a yearlong effort.

The Walk of Trust left from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and headed north to Delmar Boulevard, the symbolic "Delmar Divide," which has for generations been a mark of racial, cultural, and economic division in St. Louis. The route followed Delmar Boulevard for a few blocks before turning south to Chaifetz Arena on the campus of St. Louis University.

The group gathered there for songs in the Taizé tradition — including one that mixed in a Gospel music — along with a period of silence and two talks. Archbishop Carlson addressed the gathering, asking them to discover the ways that trust is greater than fear and that there is no fear in love.

"We must be willing to walk together — and today we did," Archbishop Carlson said.

The Taizé Community specializes in reconciliation, which is needed for healing, he said, pointing out divisions in political discourse and barriers that were unearthed during the Ferguson unrest. The next step is "reaching out to others without fear," he said.

Archbishop Carlson told of a program where a man from St. Charles and a woman from Ferguson discussed their fears of entering each other's community and, through this encounter, grew in understanding. For the pilgrimage to be a success, people need to be willing to take the first step and "have the courage to love without fear, knowing that God is with us," he said.

Rev. Tracy Blackmon, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries for The United Church of Christ and pastor at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, said structural change is needed to "get rid of the Delmar Divide."

A member of the Ferguson Commission appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, Rev. Blackmon said conversations can lead to connections, then relationships which lead to that systemic change. "When we commit to trust each other, we trust God," she said. "Thank you for loving your God and your city enough to pray with your feet."

David and Michele Jackson of Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park wanted to talk to people from other faiths about their concerns and see if they have programs or events that address the issues of divisions in the community. The walk, David Jackson said, helped "show the community at large there's a need for healing, that it can be done and the church can be a participant in that." 


Pilgrims connected in 'leapfrog' from Washington, D.C. 

Travelers to St. Louis found positive response along the road 

By Joseph Kenny | jkenny@archstl.org | twitter: @josephkenny2 

On the morning before the start of the Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis May 26-29, Rev. Rita Powell was at a campground in southern Illinois. She and seven adults and two children had just finished prayers as the first group of runners and cyclists hit the road.

Rev. Powell, an Episcopal priest from Trinity Church in Boston, and the team of runners "leapfrogged" their way to St. Louis from Washington, D.C., in a relay format, alternating between traveling by foot or pedal and by a vehicle as support persons. It's in the Christian tradition of a pilgrimage, making a "prayer with your body" along the way to a sacred place, she said.

The team, made up of people of different backgrounds, traveled to the Midwest "to begin the work of dismantling racism in our country," Rev. Powell said.

The runners could have been seen as liberals from the Northeast passing through a part of the country suspicious of them, but instead they connected with others by faith and prayer. They encountered a snake — how biblical is that — and had a conversation with a group of police officers who encouraged their cause.

"People made food for us along the way and have been interested and pretty supportive," Rev. Powell said.

The team left Washington, D.C., four days earlier from the Lincoln Memorial. They wound through the Appalachian Trail and then into eastern Kentucky and Illinois. They crossed the Ohio River on a ferry, went through the Garden of the Gods and ran on the Trail of Tears.

They intended to cover 710 miles by foot but were a couple hundred miles short, which they interpreted as a sign that it's a struggle to reach all the way "without God's help," she said. Or in other words, sometimes you have to hitch a ride with God.

Two children on the trip were followed on social media by their classmates at a Catholic school, Our Lady's Academy in Waltham, Mass., and at Burbank Elementary in Belmont, Mass. The team also posted on a Facebook page linked to Rev. Powell's church.

The Pilgrimage of Trust in St. Louis was led by ecumenical brothers from Taizé, France. Rev. Powell visited Taizé in a previous role as a youth minister and believes the brothers' focus on reconciliation is needed today in communities torn by racial mistrust. She appreciates what she called the brothers' commitment to "going to a place of hurt and sitting with it, not attempting to fix it or cross it or even understand it, so much as to be with and be in prayer with a place of great hurt. They've done that all over the world now."

Layers of racism seem to be overwhelming, but "maybe can be sat next to in prayer," Rev. Powell said. "This is on the hearts of many people of faith. It's a beautiful chance to submit that to God and acknowledge there is this giant thing that we wish to find a way to get toward."

Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé community, asked people to run toward difficulty rather than away from it. "We took that literally," she said. 

Pilgrimage of Trust

The pilgrimage is a weekend-long event consisting of ecumenical prayer, discussion, and a discovery of common ground regarding the issues that separate and divide our community.

The Pilgrimage of Trust brings together people of multiple faith, racial and socio-economic backgrounds. It was launched more than 35 years ago by Taizé's founder, Brother Roger, in order to foster trust between people through living and praying together, discussing and discovering common ground. It has brought together hundreds of thousands of young adults worldwide.

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