Totus Tuus Summer Camps are returning to 20 parishes throughout the archdiocese this month. The camps, geared toward youth ages 6-18, are facilitated by faithful young adult “missionaries” who receive several weeks of formation and training. It all begins with a week-long walking pilgrimage from the GTA up to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, ON.
We asked Totus Tuus missionary Michael Berlin-Riga to tell us more about this walking pilgrimage.
1. Totus Tuus missionaries start the summer off with a walking pilgrimage to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland. What are the best and worst aspects of the pilgrimage?
If I were to sum up my walking pilgrimage experience to Martyrs’ Shrine, I would describe it as a patient journey of suffering with others. My first day on this walking pilgrimage was the worst day for me: during the afternoon stretch, it was raining heavily, the sky darkened by clouds, and there was a period of silence. In normal circumstances I enjoy prayerful silence – I have been on many silent retreats in the past - I felt uncomfortable however, with silence on that rainy day of walking. It became apparent that my circumstances were weighing me down. I began to thoughtfully consider the sacrifice of the many Christian martyrs. From that point onward, I stopped complaining and instead, I shifted my focus toward Christ and made a concerted effort to enjoy walking with fellow Totus Tuus missionaries, despite our collective pains and aches. The best part of this walking pilgrimage was being able to forge friendships with fellow missionaries in the context of suffering. While journeying in suffering, I was able to show empathy, patience, and good humour with my fellow walking companions. Finally, we spent a lot of time in prayer, heartfelt conversations, and story-telling moments to encourage each other along our pilgrim journey.
2. What are the most challenging things that the Totus Tuus missionaries had to overcome on the pilgrimage this year? Will overcoming these challenges help you be a better missionary?
Aside from the rain, one of the most challenging things we all had to overcome was our sense of time. During the pilgrimage, we were not able to rely on phones or watches to tell time. Some days, we woke up during the middle of the night with no excuses. There were a few days where we had to walk along continuous stretches of roads and highways. It seemed as if we were journeying ‘to kingdom come’. However, these experiences of having no real sense of time challenged us all to rely on God’s providence and the charity of one another. I felt that I made more progress during the walking pilgrimage whenever I walked beside a fellow missionary, and offered them my time, talent, and presence.
As we begin the Totus Tuus summer camp weeks, I know this experience has shaped me to better serve the children and youth in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Children know what it means to be themselves and live in the present moment. Jesus said, “Unless you acquire the heart of a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So, I believe that Jesus has helped me embrace greater simplicity of life and the heart of a child to better relate with the children at Totus Tuus.
3. How did it feel for you upon arriving at the Shrine?
When we arrived at Martyrs’ Shrine at the end of the week, we walked in with silence. Then suddenly, we were greeted by the ringing of church bells from the Shrine Church – the Church of St. Joseph. As we approached the grass lawn, we laid prostrate on the ground in silent gratitude for all that God had done for us to bring us to our destination. We then climbed up the stairs of the church on our knees, most of us in tears. I felt peace of heart as I approached. It was when I went to Confession at the Shrine, that I began to cry profusely in the confessional. God overwhelmed and lavished upon me his gracious love and mercy. I have so much to thank the Lord and still much more to process from our pilgrimage experience.
4. Would you do it again?
While wonderful, I wouldn’t consider doing a week-long walking pilgrimage again until a few years down the road. There are experiences that are sometimes so precious and life-giving that fit exactly what an individual needs in a particular time and place of life. I cannot describe it fully. I would however, highly encourage more young people to consider being a part of the Totus Tuus summer program - it is worth it. I thank the Lord for allowing me to be a part of the walking pilgrimage experience. It has given me a better sense of what it means to walk through life as a pilgrim on the way to eternal life. During this summer, my hope is that I will be able to guide many children and young people to Christ, as a fruit of our walking pilgrimage experience.
Michael Berlin-Riga is a Totus Tuus missionary and a seminarian at St. Augustine’s Seminary, studying for the Archdiocese of Toronto. He will be entering his 2nd Year of Theology in September 2023.
To find out more about Totus Tuus, visit https://www.totustuustoronto.ca/. For more information on Martyrs’ Shrine and to plan your own summer visit, check out their website at: https://martyrs-shrine.com/.