On Walsingham’s Holy Mile

UK: “A friendship that is a true place on the road towards Christ”

A pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham grants the Cambridge community the possibility to understand better what it means to walk together as a community.

Last weekend, the Cambridge community undertook a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This was born from a desire to literally walk together, to understand better what it means for us to walk together as a community, to walk towards Mary and be educated by Her, “to live as Mary did, in the presence of God, raising our minds and hearts to Him in our daily activities and worries”. (Pope St. John Paul ll, England, 1981)

Fr Carrón, in a letter he read at this year’s Fraternity Exercises, reminded us that “the truest companionship we can provide is to follow together a place where we are helped to recognize Jesus present”. To help each other in this, our community in Cambridge, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Walsingham, to walk towards Mary in her House of Nazareth and place all of our needs, desire and difficulties in front of Her, who presents and offers her Son to us in a wondrous expression of her motherhood. We had many reasons to do this pilgrimage and had a lot to ask and be grateful for, both from the past year and for the forthcoming year: the candidacy to the diaconate of a friend, the upcoming canonisation of John Henry Newman, the new friendships and riches received, the present challenges from Brexit, the health of our loved ones, and, first and foremost, for the conversion of our own heart.

In the previous days, some of us were apprehensive about how the walk would play out, if the weather would hold, as strong winds and rain were forecast. But, from the start, this pilgrimage was not a project, not an activity to tick on a to-do list for the beginning of the year. Someone had invited us on this pilgrimage. If He wanted it to happen, then He would take care of it, the weather, the route, everything. All we needed to do was to say Yes and follow as Mary did. This is precisely what we did, we followed, praying the rosary, reading the meditations on the mysteries of the rosary by John Henry Newman and Pope Francis, and contemplating the beautiful scenery that slowly unveiled itself to us.

Our journey started in Burnham Overy Staithe, on a path surrounded by a swamp. At one point, we arrived at a crossroads and it was not clear whether to turn right or left. We decided to go left and we shortly arrived at the beach. Thinking it was not the right path, we were just about to turn around to seek the other path, when someone asked if we could briefly look at the sea. Thank God we did! An unexpected beauty and tranquillity revealed itself as we started walking upon the sand. “I was so focused on getting the route right, looking at my map, that I was about to miss the beauty that God had prepared for us. I needed that friend to help me look up and follow the sign, the concrete sign”. From the very beginning, the essence of the pilgrimage was to follow, and this is what we were doing, in all senses.

Once we arrived at the village of Walsingham, some families of the community joined for “Walsingham’s Holy Mile”, from the church of the Annunciation, to the present replica of the house of Nazareth at the Anglican shrine, to the minor basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham. Walking along “Walsingham’s Holy Mile”, we recited the rosary and each Hail Mary was a loving whisper to our Mother to ask her to accompany us. “We were all walking together, all of us bringing our lives and prayers towards Christ and with the help of His mother Mary, recognising that we were going towards what gives meaning and substance to our lives. It made me experience what it means that this companionship is 'people who are together because Christ is there' (Fraternity Exercises, p. 56).”

Arrived at the shrine, in front of the venerated statue of the Virgin, and later in the sanctuary of light, we were able to entrust our intentions and petitions, and light candles in front of Mary and her Son, asking for the flame of their love to never burn out and asking for Her help to recognize Him, His presence, that had been so greatly evidenced today. There were many people in the shrine but there was also a ‘me’ in front of Our Lady, holding Jesus in her arms, a personal dialogue.

Back home in Cambridge, a few people shared their experience in an ‘ironic attempt’ not to lose anything of it: “This pilgrimage has been moving for me, even with the kids. I was so grateful to be there and to walk towards our Lady. It’s as if all commitments that I have this week are now in the true perspective, the perspective of eternity." Another friend recounts: “This pilgrimage continues now in my daily life, I leave this shrine with my eyes full of the beautiful shore, full of these joyful faces, my heart and my eyes shaped in contemplation of Jesus and Mary’s tenderness towards me. I leave this shrine a beggar, a beggar asking for this poverty of heart in front of my parents, my brother, my friends, the people I encounter at work, in the parish, at school of community. I leave this shrine rich, with a treasure that no-one can take away not even me”. And another, “Thanks for this pilgrimage, a friendship that is a true place on the road towards Christ, with a big help from his Holy Mother”.

Going back to our daily life, full of that experience, we all desire to maintain this position in front of life, aware of our need for beauty, for companionship, for Him.

The Cambridge Community, UK