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The Philippines

Church to church: Hong Kong teacher to walk 2,000km from England to Vatican City to raise money for poor families in Manila

A confessed ‘walkoholic’ prepares for 2,000km fundraising journey along the Via Francigena from Canterbury Cathedral in England to the Vatican in Rome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 7:00pm

When Steve Hackman’s students heard he was walking the Via Francigena – the 2,000km ancient trail from Canterbury, England, across the channel to France and through Switzerland before crossing Italy to The Vatican – they had one question.

“Are you like Jesus? Will you be walking on water when you cross the Channel?”

Hackman, the Head of Christian & Community Development Division at Yew Chung Education Foundation, had a pragmatic reply: “Unlike Jesus, Mr Hackman will be getting a ferry.”

When Hackman embarks on his 2½ month journey on June 1, he will, however, be doing a saintly act, raising money and awareness for the Yew Chung International School (YCIS) of Hong Kong’s Seeds of Hope programme, with all donations going to Kids International Ministries in the Philippines that provides education, food, and shelter to impoverished families outside Manila.

As we settle into the music room of the YCIS campus in Kowloon Tong, it becomes apparent that Hackman is excited about his upcoming journey, one that has attracted people for many hundreds of years (in medieval times it was a pilgrimage route for those visiting the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul).

It also becomes apparent that he is something of a “walkaholic”.

“I’ve done Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk in England a couple of times,” says Hackman of the 300km route in the country’s north that passes through the Lake District National Park, Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the North York Moors National Park. He says it was a story about the Coast to Coast walk, published 20 years ago in the SCMP, that triggered Hackman’s love affair with walking.

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“Before then I was a couch potato, not a hiker,” he laughs.

Since his first British walk in 2015, Hackman has had family members join him on subsequent ones- all motivated by what they saw as a transformation in him.

“The Coast to Coast walk with my son was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and made me realise long-distance walking would always be part of me,” says the 51-year-old American who has called Hong Kong home for the past 25 years.

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Inspiration for his other walking journey came after watching The Way, the 2010 film starring Martin Sheen as a father who embarks on the Camino de Santiago, the famous trek in Spain that’s also known as the Way of St James.

“I saw that film and said to my wife Tammy, ‘I’m going to walk that’.”

And he did. It took him a month to complete the 800km journey. Last year he walked it again with his wife, six-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter.

“When you hit the highest point – the Cruz de Ferro – you see an iron cross. For thousands of years people have been laying stones there – a metaphor for their burdens. So you take a stone from your home country – my son and I took stones from Ma Wan Beach on Park Island where we live, and we left them on the mound with the other stones. It was an extremely spiritual moment.”

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As for training for next month’s trek, Hackman says he’s not wearing a 20kg pack and walking 25km a day, the daily distance he’s aiming to cover. What he is doing, however, is clocking 15,000 steps a day. “My FitBit keeps me in check. And I won’t take the MTR from Kowloon Tong after work but instead walk to the Star Ferry.”