Monday, 12 April 2010

More on the Walsingham Pilgrimage 2010

One of the pilgrims to Walsingham this past week end was Michael Payne. He kindly wrote down his reflections and send them to me for publication. Here they are, a very good companion to the photos in the previous post. Thank you Michael!

This year saw a very successful Parish Pilgrimage to Walsingham. We had three days of lovely weather which made a change from last year, which was bitterly cold. In fact, many of us remarked that we had never experienced such a sunny Walsingham.
Our pilgrimage began on Friday morning with a Said Mass and blessing of pilgrims, during which Fr Ivan encouraged us to trust in Jesus, and to embark on our pilgrimage with this trust rooted in our hearts. We were lucky enough to have a small group join us from Wrotham and it was nice to set off with some new and friendly faces.
It has to be said that the journey to the Shrine was a long one. The traffic was poor and we rather limped into the Shrine grounds in the late afternoon. That said, it is always worth remembering that even on a bad day, you reach Walsingham in a few hours. In days gone by, it could take days and even weeks to reach this lovely destination.
We went straight into the Shrine church for the First Visit, which is a kind of formal welcome with prayers and time spent in the Holy House. Fr Ivan encouraged us to visit the Holy House in our free time for reflection, devotion and prayer.
We enjoyed a dinner in the refectory and some of us managed to fit in a glass or two of something restorative at the village pub before bed.
Saturday morning began with Stations of the Cross in the lovely Shrine Gardens during which we prayed for those whom we knew to be in need of some kind. There then followed a goodish period of free time, and it is these chunks of time which allow the mystery of Walsingham to permeate the mind and soul. Admittedly, some of us decided to allow this to happen during a very poor demonstration of football skills at the village recreation ground, while others explored the village, spent time in the Shrine or rattled along to Wells on the little steam train.
After lunch we assembled at the Roman Catholic National Shrine for ecumenical prayers for church unity before beginning the Holy Mile walk back to the Shrine. Church unity is close to the heart of Walsingham; there is the Roman Catholic chapel, a Russian Orthodox church and Anglican parish church in the village, whilst in the Shrine itself there is a tiny but unutterably peaceful Orthodox chapel in addition to the Shrine church and Holy House.
We recited the Rosary on the Holy Mile walk, and the power and mystery of this wonderful devotion was magnified amidst the loveliness of the spring weather. It seemed as if every tree, insect and cloud wanted to be a part of glorifying God in prayer, whilst scores of birds and two rather verbose sheep seemed to join in the recitations.
Saturday evening consisted of a Mass in the Shrine and the Procession of Our Lady by candlelight in the Shrine Gardens. There were several other parishes on pilgrimage too, so there was a wonderful sea of candlelight winding its way around the serpentine path accompanied by choruses of ‘Ave Maria’. It is these gentle but very real experiences of fellowship and devotion which make Walsingham resound in the heart of Pilgrims long after the return home. After the Procession, the ministries of anointing with oil, laying on of hands and the sacrament of reconciliation were available to pilgrims, which allowed an even deeper encounter with the mercy and love of God.
On Sunday there is less free time, and one rather gallops from one experience to another. We began with a Parish Mass in the beautiful St Mary’s church, enjoyed a robust English roast lunch, received the healing waters of the well in Sprinkling, processed with the Blessed Sacrament in the Gardens and received Benediction in the Shrine Church.
As our time to depart approached, we had what is called the Last Visit, during which prayers and song prepare the pilgrims for the return to daily life.  A common reaction to the Last Visit is one of deep sadness and regret at having to leave. Pilgrims are often moved to tears at saying goodbye to this lovely place, but pilgrimage is about what you do after you have been immersed in the mystery of Walsingham, as the Last Visit Hymn encapsulates: ‘O holy house of Walsingham! Here would we ever dwell, but Jesus calls us to the strife and tumults of our daily life, Our Lady’s Shrine, “Farewell” ‘.
If you have not been to Walsingham, or perhaps have not visited for some time, do please consider going. Sometimes, I think people may feel a bit put off of Walsingham because of a number of reasons.  Firstly, Walsingham is a great place to take children and families. There are not any ‘no go’ areas and the Shrine staff are lovely and welcoming to people of all ages. Walsingham is not about ‘worshipping’ Mary in any way. Walsingham is completely about Jesus Christ; the intimacy and power of this particular encounter with Christ comes from devotion to His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
St. John’s does not have a ‘Walsingham club’; It is not in any way a ‘clique’ or a select group. I have been going for a few years now, and there are always different people on pilgrimage and new faces coming along.
The Shrine is open to visitors all year round and outside of the official pilgrimages you don’t have to book or make yourself known if you are visiting ‘under your own steam’ unless you want to stay in the Shrine Accommodation. There are lovely cottages and B&Bs in the area and the Norfolk coast in just a few miles from the village.
The next ‘formal’ pilgrimage is the National Pilgrimage on Monday 31 May, which is a one-day pilgrimage and unlike most other pilgrimages in that the Shrine and village are very busy. The Shrine also holds a Pilgrimage especially for families, there is a Pilgrimage of Healing, a Youth Pilgrimage for teenagers in August (a pandemonium of camping and worship in a field outside the Shrine) and the ‘Adoremus’ pilgrimage for 18-30 year olds.
Do take a look at the Shrine’s website (, speak to Fr Ivan or Janice Williams (or me!) if you would like any further information.

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