Dozens gathered last week for an archdiocesan-sponsored walk through downtown Philadelphia in support of addiction recovery.

Catholic Social Services (CSS) organized the Sept. 16 event, which drew some 65 clients, staff and supporters of Mercy Hospice and Women of Hope, two of the agency’s longtime ministries that support women facing addiction, homelessness and mental health challenges.

The outreaches, both beneficiaries of the annual Catholic Charities Appeal, are part of a constellation of CSS sites throughout the five-county area that collectively serve thousands of individuals each year. Over the last two years, Mercy Hospice has aided 180 women and 25 children in its mission to provide stability to families experiencing homelessness while in recovery from substance abuse.

Thursday’s walk — part of National Recovery Month, an annual observance originally designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – began with a blessing by Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre, who oversees archdiocesan Catholic Human Services.

“Father, as we begin, we call to mind all of our brothers and sisters we have lost through addiction,” he prayed. “We ask you to look with mercy and kindness upon (those) who strive for sobriety and for virtue each day.”

Faith is “a big part of recovery,” said Marcey Canalichio, a certified recovery specialist at Mercy Hospice and a former client of the facility.

“A lot of times in addiction, it’s basically about me – everything I want, what I need, how I want it to be,” she said. “But now with God in my life, I have faith when things aren’t going the way I want them to, and it really takes a lot of pressure off me.”

Amid the stress of daily life, belief in a loving, all-powerful God enables Canalichio “to not get as tied up, and less likely to relapse.”

The recovery walk, punctuated by encouraging honks from downtown drivers, sent “a positive message” showing those in recovery as “happy, functioning and part of society,” said Canalichio – and that news was needed more than ever, she added.

Participants in a Catholic Social Services Recovery Walk through downtown Philadelphia Sept. 16 were greeted with enthusiastic car horn blasts from passers-by. (Gina Christian)

Amid the pandemic, U.S. overdose deaths soared to more than 93,000, up 30% from the previous year and marking the largest toll in any other one-year period in the nation’s history.

Those numbers don’t include “suicide, gun violence and COVID deaths that are drug-related,” said walk participant Father Douglas McKay, founder and chaplain of Our House Ministries, a Catholic recovery outreach adjacent to St. Gabriel Parish in the city’s Grays Ferry neighborhood.

Yet such news has become “run of the mill,” said fellow Our House administrator and Catholic radio host Ken Johnston, who joined Father McKay and several other Our House members for the walk.

For that reason, said Johnston, the recovery walk was an important means of demonstrating “there is a real solution to this thing called addiction.”

Compassion is a first step, said walk participant Kathy Diering, also from Our House.

“We’re all God’s children – some are sick, some are broken, but really, we’re all broken, and only God can heal us,” she said.

The walk paved a way towards solidarity in recovery, said CHS secretary James Amato, who described the event as “community-building.”

Struggles with addiction can be transformed into a deeper appreciation for the value and meaning of life, Canalichio said.

“Recovery can allow a person to just see the world through a whole new pair of glasses, a new perspective,” she said. “I actually don’t think I would be as happy as I am now, had I never been through some of the bad times that I went through.”

CSS is determined to help clients reach that point – even when the journey is a difficult one, said Amy Stoner, the agency’s director of community-based, housing and homelessness services.

Noting that some had expressed concern a pending thunderstorm might threaten last week’s walk, Stoner said she refused to cancel.

“If the weather’s messy, so is addiction, and so is the recovery process,” she said. “We’re prepared, and we’re going to march through the mess.”

Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond Parish in Philadelphia, serves dinner to participants after a Sept. 16 Recovery Walk in Philadelphia sponsored by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services. (Gina Christian)