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A healing journey

When Gemma Hickey set out on the Hope Walk in Port aux Basques July 2, she started walking alone.

Gemma Hickey (right) is greeted by wellwishers as she completes her Hope Walk Sunday in St. John’s to raise awareness about religious institutional abuse, and to raise funds for the Pathways Foundation. As a survivor of clergy abuse, she is working hard to ensure others won’t have to go through what she, and many others, have experienced.

She didn’t have to. Trainers, a support team, corporate donors and supporters all over were behind her the whole way of the 900-kilometre journey.


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But as a clergy abuse survivor, the Hope Walk — whose goal was to raise awareness about religious institutional abuse and to raise funds for the Pathways Foundation — was personal for Hickey.

“Part of the walk has certainly been about my own journey, and I really wanted to experience the solitude and be present in my vulnerability,” she said.

“Walking for stretches alone really provided a space for me to reflect on my life and what happened to me. And it really gave me time to take in all the stories that I’ve heard from other survivors, and family members of survivors, and really think about what the next steps are for Pathways.”

After walking the first couple of weeks alone, Hickey welcomed the company of several supporters, including three of her trainers and her mother. Many more stopped to walk short distances with her or to greet her on the highway.

“I’m just overwhelmed and so very honoured by the support I’m getting. I’m getting honks, people are donating on the road, they’re stopping to talk to me. In the communities I’ve visited they’re coming up to me, hugging me, inviting me into their homes,” she said. “This walk has really just exceeded even my own expectations.”

Having trained hard to prepare for the walk, losing 75 pounds in her training, endurance was not a problem for Hickey. However, she said old sports injuries were aggravated, and problems with her feet slowed her down some days. At one point, the skin was rubbed off the bottoms of both her feet.

But the pain was part of the healing journey.

“Through the chafing, through the hives, the rashes, the blisters on my feet, I was able to really pay attention to my body. This whole process of training, actually transforming my body in order to do this walk, made me pay attention to my body in a different way, in a way I never thought of before.

“And sometimes, when I would think about everything I was doing at the end of the night, I’d have to pay attention to my wounds. I would think about how I was hurt. And in a way, not only was I healing myself emotionally, but physically as well,” she said.

The walk officially ended at the Mount Cashel memorial, a tribute to the children who were abused at the Mount Cashel Boys’ Home in St. John’s, on Sunday afternoon. Hickey was greeted by about 100 friends and supporters for the walk’s finale, which included speeches from her loved ones, community groups and religious organizations.

Though the walk is finished, the journey is only getting started. Hickey said it laid a foundation for the work ahead for the Pathways Foundation.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and that’s certainly with providing safe spaces for dialogue, connecting with faith groups on how they can be involved, more education and awareness and working toward prevention in visibility,” she said.

Hickey said Pathways is about halfway to its $200,000 fundraising goal, and plans to keep up fundraising efforts.

“We’re going to build on the momentum that’s been built — and the awareness — on the walk, and work with our community partners, and churches and survivors and their families, to ensure that this type of abuse doesn’t happen again.”




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