Pilgrimage initiative links Cathedrals with Shrines

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Pilgrimage initiative links Cathedrals with Shrines

The ‘Hearts in Search of God’ project introduces walking pilgrimages across England and Wales, connecting cathedrals and shrines, inspired by Pope Francis’ teachings.

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle, a unique project is taking root in the verdant landscapes of England and Wales, inviting individuals to slow down and embark on a journey of spiritual reflection and physical challenge. The “Hearts in Search of God” project, pioneered by Phil McCarthy, a retired General Practitioner, and former CEO of Caritas Social Action Network, is reshaping the concept of pilgrimage in the modern context.

Inspired by the words of Pope Francis – “In every person there is a heart in search of God” – this three-year initiative aims to promote walking pilgrimages, connecting each Catholic cathedral with one or more shrines within the same diocese. The project is not just a call to rediscover spiritual roots but also an invitation to explore the rich tapestry of religious heritage and natural beauty that England and Wales offer.

One of the flagship routes of this project, the Way of the Annunciation for the Diocese of East Anglia, encapsulates the essence of this initiative. Spanning a total of 38.7 miles from the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich to the Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in Houghton St Giles and finally to the Church of the Annunciation in Little Walsingham, this route is a testament to the project’s vision. It offers a blend of serene landscapes, historical landmarks, and profound spiritual significance.

The project’s website, www.pilgrimways.org.uk, serves as a hub for resources and information, providing downloadable walking guides, spiritual resources, and even pilgrim passports and certificates. The first year of the project has seen the establishment of Pilgrim Ways in numerous dioceses, with the others to be all added by September 24. The initiative also holds the promise of future events to further engage the community, particularly the youth, in this rejuvenating practice.

Phil’s call to diocesan communication officers and the broader community is clear: engage, promote, and participate. The project not only offers an opportunity for spiritual growth but also promotes physical well-being and local tourism, aligning with contemporary concerns such as recovery from the pandemic and environmental sustainability.

The success of the “Hearts in Search of God” project is a collective endeavour. It relies on the collaboration of volunteers, the support of local parishes, and the engagement of pilgrims. The project, while rooted in the Catholic tradition, extends a welcoming hand to people of all faiths and none, embodying the inclusive spirit of pilgrimage. Phil hopes to encourage every diocese to undertake a walking pilgrimage during the 2025 Jubilee with its wonderful motto ‘Pilgrims of Hope’.

Pictured above is the Church of the Annunciation, Walsingham.