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John Paul II Pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last week, the annual John Paul II pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham was held. The pilgrimage was a great success with over 30 people, both young and old, taking part, walking along some of the same paths that have been used by pilgrims for centuries.

It was organised by Sr. Hyacinth of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph, and Fr Ben Earl was the Dominican Chaplain. As we walked the fifty mile journey over two and a half days, there was a real sense in which we were capturing the Dominican spirit. Like St Dominic, we were on the road for the sake of the Gospel, for the salvation of souls, praying and singing hymns as we walked along.

Pilgrimage can be seen as a metaphor for the Christian life. A pilgrimage has a clear destination, a definite purpose and goal, and this is reflected in life, a journey in which our final destination is with God. On a pilgrimage we need to continually check that we are going in the right direction, and so too in life, we need to continually check that our lives are directed towards Christ. As we journey, we do not go it alone, but we travel down paths which others have trod, we journey as a community of believers helping each other along the way, always encouraging, building friendships and bonds of love, not letting anyone get left behind.

Pilgrimage can also be a way of discovering that ascetic dimension to life, a dimension in which in one way or another, all Christians are called to participate. Christ showed his great love for us by dying on the cross, and so in a small way by doing something arduous and renouncing ourselves, we can show our love for Christ and grow in the virtue of charity.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimage was very much associated with penance. In the 12th Century, Pope Eugenius III gave St Gerlac the penance of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and spending seven years there serving the sick and the poor. St Gerlac had asked for a severe penance in order to make amends for his former way of life. Whilst our two and a half day pilgrimage hardly compares with the efforts to which St Gerlac went, the penitential nature of our pilgrimage was still present. We were reminded of the great importance of the sacrament of reconciliation and we were encouraged to go to confession so that we could enter Walsingham having been forgiven of all our sins.

On arriving at the Slipper Chapel, we prayed to Our Lady for the conversion of England and Wales, before going into Mass in the Chapel of Reconciliation. We then walked the final mile into Walsingham, praying the Rosary as we went, joyful in the anticipation of reaching our final destination. Our pilgrimage came to an end with Benediction in the Church of the Annunciation in Walsingham; it was a chance to focus on our final goal, life with Christ, and an opportunity to be thankful for the many graces which we had received through the prayers of Our Lady of Walsingham on our pilgrimage.

Robert Verrill OP


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