The pilgrimage, which attracted around 900 participants, took place on the Feast of the Visitation, with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth modelling the welcome of the new which comes from fresh encounters. The event itself was innovative, combining as it did for the first time the traditional Diocesan Pilgrimage with the Children’s Pilgrimage, with all the mixture of ages, music and styles which that involved.
After the dreary gap caused by the Covid pandemic there was a sense of renewal and of things being restored to their original condition. It was reflected in the buildings of the Shrine itself, where the Church of Reconciliation was surrounded by scaffolding and the old mossy tiles had been removed to be replaced with bright new ones. Meanwhile in the stone building which formed the original centre of the Shrine, the Director Fr Philip Moger had recreated the Holy Spirit chapel by rediscovering and removing the boarding from the beautiful mosaic of the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the apostles.
Several parishes had booked coaches to bring a contingent of pilgrims. Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds were well represented, while other groups had made long journeys from Huntingdon and Peterborough. For Mass the Church of Reconciliation was packed full, with many more people sitting outside. More than ever before you could hear a variety of languages being spoken by the pilgrims – Asian and east European ones as well as English.
In his homily Bishop Alan Hopes brought out the significance of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth described in the Gospel. “Elizabeth is elderly,” he said, “and her life has turned out not as expected. God has intervened in a dramatic way. Mary was looking forward to everything life had to offer, yet God has redirected her life in a way she could never have imagined.”
Both women, he went on to say, were able to embrace the life which God offered. “They were open to receive the unexpected when the new touched the old. Mary encountered the unjust criticism and judgement of others, yet she did what was needed at the moment…We know change and movement are necessary. God is always calling us towards new growth.”
Bishop Alan encouraged his listeners to imitate the altruism and the optimism of the two women. “Mary sings with her voice and her actions. She responds to the needs of others and accepts those God places in her way. She sings because God turns the tables when everything seems to go wrong…Like Mary and Elizabeth we must live in the hope of being lifted up and opened up by the unexpected gifts of God.”
After Mass and picnic the pilgrims separated into a children’s group which walked along the old railway track and an adult’s group which processed along the Holy Mile, the two streams meeting in the village for Adoration and Benediction in the Abbey grounds. After the sunshine of the picnic the weather darkened; but despite an overcast sky and the sound of thunder the downpour held off until the pilgrims had finished the return walk to the National Shrine.
Fr Philip Shryane from St Michael the Archangel Huntingdon adds: “After three years it was lovely to go with a large parish group to Walsingham and join so many pilgrims for the Diocesan pilgrimage. A group of almost 70 pilgrims, mostly in a large coach, but some by car, made the journey on Tuesday May 31. It was wonderful to be part of the Diocesan pilgrimage again after the years of lock down and uncertainty. Our group was made up of many families and lots of children who were a little disappointed not to be going to the beach as well, although the weather was not great for the beach, maybe next year. All were very pleased to be at Mass with the Bishop and meeting people from different parts of the Diocese.”
Pictured above is the procession in the village of Little Walsingham. You can see a Flickr gallery of the Diocesan Pilgrimage by clicking on the link or the picture below.