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Courage of disabled woman's longest walk

PUBLISHED: 14:13 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:53 07 September 2010

Fieke dan den Berg outside St. Joseph's Church, Highgate Hill promoting her walk on Wednesday

Fieke dan den Berg outside St. Joseph's Church, Highgate Hill promoting her walk on Wednesday

Jonathan Goldberg 07958 229 037

A DISABLED pensioner who can barely walk, set out on a mile-long trek yesterday to raise cash for her church in Highgate. Fieke van den Berg, 76, has been a parishioner at St Joseph s for 60 years and hopes her feat of endurance will help rais

Tan Parsons

A DISABLED pensioner who can barely walk, set out on a mile-long trek yesterday to raise cash for her church in Highgate.

Fieke van den Berg, 76, has been a parishioner at St Joseph's for 60 years and hopes her feat of endurance will help raise the profile of the church, which needs £2.5million for repairs.

She suffers from ataxia, which means she has virtually no sense of balance, and normally relies on her motorised wheelchair or her small car to get around.

"This is the first time I've done anything like this," she said. "I suppose it is a little bit brave and perhaps a bit mad, but I just thought it would be good to try and help the church."

As the Ham&High went to press the pensioner, who lives in North Hill, was setting out on her walk from Archway up the hill to Pond Square, then back down to St Joseph's on Highgate Hill.

"I have to be able to feel something next to me when I'm standing and that's why I've chosen this route - it has nice long walls along the way," she said.

"I tried to do some training in preparation, but the difficulty was that people kept stopping me and saying, 'Would you like some help, dear?' Since then I've mainly been relying on prayers."

Ms van den Berg is one of nine siblings from a family of Dutch Catholics, and one of her sisters was due to support her along the walk yesterday.

As well as attending mass at the church every morning, Ms van den Berg plays a crucial role behind the scenes.

On Sunday mornings she gives lifts in her car to other elderly parishioners and she also makes trips of several miles in her motorised chair to take Holy Communion to housebound parishioners.

Other tasks include washing and ironing the priests' vestments.

She chose to do her fundraising walk to mark the 150th anniversary of the Passionists' arrival in Highgate. The monastic community established the Church of St Joseph when they came to the area and bought the Black Dog Inn.

They arrived in disguise because of the anti-Catholic sentiments in England at the time.

Ms van den Berg said: "Some of the stonework at the church is crumbling now. It's damp and needs to be redecorated. It was originally very highly decorated inside but it's since been repainted a single colour.

"I think it's starting to feel its age - a bit like me. I've been inspired by my love of St Joseph's and the parish and I would be lost without it."

o To make a donation to the church call 020-7272 2320 or send a cheque, made payable to St Joseph's, to St Joseph's Church, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5NE.

tan.parsons@hamhigh.co.uk

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