Marty Rogers walks the walk in his South Bronx neighborhood. He is usually doing something to lift up his Melrose community or Immaculate Conception parish there, often both at the same time.
A few weeks ago, Rogers emailed about an initiative he has helped lead since 2017. It began with the backing of Sister Patrice Owens, S.C.C., then the principal of Immaculate Conception School, and Trista Rivera, then an eighth-grade teacher and now the school’s dean.
A student had asked Ms. Rivera how they could help the homeless people they saw on the streets of their Bronx neighborhood.
From that question, the Hope Walk was born. The walk originally took place a handful of times each year as an after-school service project for the seventh- and eighth-graders. The students and faculty, plus a few other volunteers, covered a dozen or more blocks throughout the neighborhood.
Fast forward to March and April 2020, the beginning months of the Covid-19 pandemic. New York City was largely shut down. Many of the only people still outside were the homeless.
City services were curtailed, with the virus shutting down shelters and the subways closed for cleaning in the overnight hours. “It was the perfect storm,” Rogers recalled by phone last week.
A small band of adults, including Sister Patrice, and Rogers and his wife, Francine, soon made the decision to resume the Hope Walk. “We understood there was a level of risk,” Rogers said.
They also saw a great need in the neighborhood streets. “The people we were seeing were in such dire straits,” he said.
The Hope Walk now takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. It seeks to live up to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 31-46, which say that when we help the least of those in our midst, it is the same as helping the Lord Himself.
By the fall of 2020, Sister Jude Biank, S.C.C., and Sister Janice Kraft, S.C.C., both longtime faculty members at Cristo Rey High School in East Harlem, began to participate.
Joe McQuarrie, the director of campus ministry, signed on too. The Hope Walks soon became a good outlet for the Christian service projects required of the school’s juniors. (No students took part during the early Covid times.)
At Cristo Rey, which featured remote instruction during the 2020-2021 school year, the walks offered a chance for students to gather with their classmates, McQuarrie said.
“They were hungry for community, and building it there in the Bronx,” he said.
Many of the kids are Bronx natives. The two religious sisters were also a big part of the draw. “Everyone knows and loves Sister Jude and Sister Janice,” McQuarrie said. “Go up to see where they live, and they’ll do it (the Hope Walk) with you.”
Once they started walking, the Cristo Rey students continued to show up every Friday. Along with the weekly crew, lots of other kids turned out, said McQuarrie, who makes sure all the parental permission slips are signed. The Hope Walk was the beneficiary of Cristo Rey’s Lenten fund-raiser, which collected more than $1,000.
The students witnessed people on the street looking out for their friends, at times leading the walkers to another person “who could use” a sandwich or a bottle of water that the group was giving out.
Before starting out, a brief discussion of Hope Walk ground rules takes place in the chapel of the Sisters of Christian Charity convent, and a prayer of blessing is offered for the walk.
Prayers are common with the people they meet along the way. They are often student-led, especially if the person is Spanish-speaking. There are many familiar faces, and conversations are frequent. At times, those they serve will lead prayer as well.
“In all of my time, I’ve never been part of something as cool as this Hope Walk,” said McQuarrie, who just wrapped up his seventh year at Cristo Rey.
Rogers said he’d like to see other parishes, schools and church organizations replicate what the Hope Walk is doing in the Melrose neighborhood.
“Take Jesus at His word,” he said. “Do it.”
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