This was our first ever parish pilgrimage. After 5 years as priest, I managed to persuade the parish that this was the right move at the right time, and Wow! Was I ever right? A phenomenal 30 people came with us, travelling by car to keep the costs down and staying half-board. The results were a most fabulous gelling of the Community, a prayerful and honest response to all the Shrine has to offer and a true sense of holiness and prayer in our Masses, intercessions, Rosary walk and a true sense of Community and Fun as we gathered for coffee, food and lots and lots of wine.
Our pilgrimage was enhanced by the welcome return of Caroline, our placement student from the Summer, and her husband, who helped us with some of the worship; and a couple of others from beyond our parish who enriched our experience. Most of the group were first-timers to Walsingham and Bishop Lindsay gave me sage advice a couple of weeks ago to “allow the Shrine to work on them”, and not to worry too much about what we did, or organised or forgot, for the holy place is holy for a reason; and I have to say it came up trumps.
Many were visibly moved by the experience. Sometimes this was joy, sometimes sadness, but I sense that comfort was found even as the sadness of loss and disappointment in the lives of some were redeemed by the victory of Christ the King, whose feast we celebrated there.
A November Pilgrimage was good: not dead, and yet not crowded. Easier to book than a Summer date and yet not losing out too much: no procession, but everything else on the Shrine menu. Yes, it rained, but it always rains for me in Walsingham; so we were prepared. Not too cold, Stella Maris House was, well, adequate (although Steven Ruff found himself in the Priest’s Hole (!) – a room so small you had to duck to climb into through a hobbit-sized door at the top of the building!). Lou and the family and I stayed in St Cuthbert’s on Knight Street which was really nice.
In the past, I have led pilgrimages without organising them: at Holy Spirit they were so experienced that I simply turned up and did what they had drawn up, this time I had to organise the whole thing. The Itinerary was not perfect and we have some ideas for improvement next year, but everything was done as needed. Learning curve, I say.
A Pizza Express in Cambridge rounded the weekend off nicely, and back home by 10.30pm.
A unanimous decision: next year – 19th-21st November (weekend of Christ the King, again). Taking names already. This might just become a habit!