Above: Henry Moree (second from left) started the Catholic Young Adult Saturday hikes in 2020. Emily Shira (third from right) is new to the area and participated with the group on a recent hike in Cary.
Looking around the Triangle area, the growth is evident. New apartment buildings and construction is one clue. In the Fall of 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Raleigh was the 10th most popular city for people moving to a new metro area. By many estimates, about 5,000 people move to the Triangle area each month.
Emily Shira, 27, is one of them. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she attended the University of Notre Dame and lived in Michigan following graduation. Work brought her to the Raleigh-Durham area in April 2022. She only knew a few people but had a good experience meeting people and making friends through Catholic young adult groups when she was new to Michigan.
Shira gave it a try in Raleigh, too. She joined a GroupMe for Catholic young adults and saw a post about a hike, and thought it sounded like a great chance to meet people.
“Showing up to a hike not knowing anyone is way less intimidating than showing up to some kind of large group event so it felt like something I could do on my own,” Shira told NC Catholics after attending an April 30 hike at Cary’s Bond Park. “I liked that it brought me to both a new park and a new part of town. One of my favorite parts of hiking is how naturally conversations can flow when you're just walking next to someone, so this hike proved to be a great way to get to know multiple people through one-on-one conversations as groups moved and shifted throughout the hike.”
The hikes happen every Saturday morning and are organized by Henry Moree, a parishioner at St. Luke in Raleigh. Moree also is a volunteer administrator for the Raleigh Catholic Young Adults Group on Facebook.
The hikes begin with prayer or chaplet, and the group visits locations throughout the Triangle, such as William B. Umstead State Park, the North Carolina Museum of Art and Goodnight Park. Recently the group visited the N.C. Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill following a member’s recommendation.
The hikes are open to whoever wants to join. Although many hikers are in their 20s and 30s, there are some older and all ages are welcome. And while many hikers are new to the area, just as many have been here for years.
Moree, who is originally from Holly Springs, began these organized hikes in June of 2020 when he moved back to the Triangle area.
“I moved here during the height of the pandemic … I wanted to make friendships through Church. Given everything going on at the time, a regular outdoor gathering seemed like a good fit, so I posted the idea to Raleigh Catholic Young Adults, and it caught on,” said Moree, 27.
Like Shira, Moree had a positive experience in another state with a similar group, and he was looking to repeat it here.
“I lived in Kansas City for a few years after undergrad and shortly after I converted to Catholicism. The Catholic community in that metro was exceptional. That was instrumental to my social and spiritual life during my time there, and I retain to this day close friendships I made there.”
The hiking group finds unique ways to blend faith into the experience of friendship and nature.
It’s not unusual to overhear conversations about favorite saints or theology.
A friend of Moree’s, who is a priest, attends the hikes most weekends. “He gets asked lots of questions about theology, monastic life, etc. from those in attendance, both Catholic and non-Catholic,” said Moree. “I personally have learned a lot from those conversations!”
Moree has also learned how well the simple act of walking promotes conversation, and how the group can grow and change. During the last two years they added lunch at a nearby restaurant after the walk for those who want to attend.
“Lots of the time … the best ‘Catholic stuff’ comes in the form of natural conversation during the hike and at lunch. The hikes are deliberately casual, so lots of different faith-related topics come up naturally, along with anything and everything else going on in people's lives. Also, since we make a point of creating a Catholic setting but making that open to all, we have lots of organic conversations about faith with non-Catholic friends that people invite to join us,” Moree said.
It's not unusual for hikers to talk about life events, such as work, pets (who are also welcome), finding a new home or getting married. Moree himself is engaged to Mallory Fields, from Youngsville, who joins him on the hikes.
“The heavier topics are interesting, and the lighter ones are fun, so I like how this informal setting lets a natural blend of those occur. I am also fond of how it has evolved over time based on people's suggestions. We added a devotional when someone brought up the idea of praying together, we added a post-hike lunch after the idea came up to eat together after one of the hikes, and we tried a park in Chapel Hill after someone requested a hike in that area.