Walkers flock to join Cork priest’s Lenten fundraising quest

Buttevant priest Fr Eugene Baker tells CHRIS DUNNE about a Lenten walking trek that aims to raise funds for the war-stricken people of South Sudan
Walkers flock to join Cork priest’s Lenten fundraising quest

Stephen Crowley and Cathal Chambers of the Irish Peacekeepers in Lebanon clock up some extra miles for the Virtual Walk.

IF you’re finding your daily 5km jaunt a bit of an uphill battle during lockdown, spare a thought for all those joining Buttevant priest Fr Eugene Baker on his virtual Lenten walking trek.

Their aim is to walk 9,144km — equivalent to the distance between the North Cork town and Juba in South Sudan — to raise money for the stricken people of that African country.

Fr Eugene has arranged the initiative to raise funds for Trócaire and has had help from both near —and far.

“Two Cork engineers, Stephen and Cathal, based in Lebanon with the Irish army, are clocking up the miles for Trócaire,” says Eugene, a native of Ballindangan, Mitchesltown who has been based in the parish of Buttevant for four years.

“They are far from home! But it’s a worthwhile way to keep in touch and keep connected with us.

“At the same time, they are helping those in a war-torn country.”

It takes a village to come together to help people affected by war.

“The whole parish has embraced the virtual walk to raise awareness and funds for impoverished families in South Sudan who have been blighted by famine and war,” says Eugene.

“My own personal target is to raise €200. Donations can be made via our Facebook page, Buttevant and Lisgriffin Parish Pastoral Council. Walkers’ efforts are logged on here and they are getting sponsorship for their efforts.

“We are keeping tabs on our progress via the Strava App. 

"There’s a lot of competition to get to the top of the leaderboard! Young lads are even going out cycling again in the evening in order to up their mileage!”

Team Buttevant answered the call.

“I have to say, there is a great buzz and a lot of excitement around the place with people out and about walking for the Trócaire initiative,” says Eugene. 

“It is great to see people being motivated, especially during lockdown!”

They are imaginative too.

“Apart from people doing daily walks, they are jogging, cycling, and roller-blading!”

This year’s Trócaire Lenten campaign focuses on its work in South Sudan, which has suffered greatly from the strife of civil war. Fr Eugene is the representative for Trócaire in the Cloyne diocese.

The UN estimates a third of the south Sudanese pre-war population of 12 million people have been displaced and crossed borders into neighbouring countries and beyond. About two million are internally displaced and face severe food shortages. Two-thirds of South Sudan refugees are children.

“The people in Sudan are fleeing brutal armed conflict and have lost nearly everything,” says Eugene.

“So many people have begun walking during Covid-19 lockdowns, I thought it was good to put it out there to walk for a good cause and do some good while clocking up the miles.

“I invited people who go walking to join me in a virtual walk from Buttevant to South Sudan, which is 9,144km.”

Fr Eugene walked an impressive 53km himself in just over a week after Ash Wednesday.

“A virtual walk with a couple of hundred people on board over Lent is possible,” says Eugene. “It will require a lot of people to step up and help out and they are doing that, delighted to contribute to helping the plight of the Sudanese people.”

The parish of Buttevant has ventured far already.

“By February 23, we had collectively clocked up a staggering 3,650km,” says Eugene.

Everyone can identify with each other on the journey and with the people it will be helping.

“Awati and Ajak are the two women on the Trócaire box,” says Eugene.

“They are refugees of a civil war. Hopefully the Trócaire Lenten campaign, together with the Sudanese Council of Churches, can help these people survive after the war. Trócaire is focused on humanitarian work and the Irish charity does great work.”

Was Fr Eugene always a walker?

“Yes, I’ve been on the Camino, walking 800km. I think walking is in the bones! And it is great for mental health.”

It can give people a purpose too.

“I noticed during lockdown that some people were just walking aimlessly,” says Eugene. 

“Now they have a purpose; a goal. And with the virtual maps they can see updates on mileage achieved.

“During lockdown, it is easy to retreat. Now, with social distance walking and with technology, we can all connect with one another. And we have something to aim for.”

Many will arrive sooner than expected at the rate they’re going.

“That’s true!” says Eugene. “I think some of us may be making a return journey after 40 days! Let’s hope we all get home in one piece!”

Fr Eugene says the virtual walk is an act of solidarity and an act of love.

“People are taking part out of love, as an act of friendship towards their fellow man. It is heartening to reach out across the world.

“We are all on one planet, humanity together.”

In South Sudan, the people will find out about Fr Eugene’s good work.

“We’ll be sending a photo-album to the local priest in Juba,” says Eugene. “He will open it up and show the people at mass. They can see all who were involved in the act of love.”

Trócaire is an Irish charity striving to overcome the challenges of poverty and injustice in the developing world.

Those interested in getting involved in the fundraiser can contact Fr Eugene Baker on 086-8031876. See Buttevant Parish facebook page.

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