7 Seminarians, 6 pounds for a large cod and chips, 5 decades of the Rosary, 4 Masses, 3 days of walking, 2 Holy Miles and 1 Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
I knew people from St Chrysostom’s and other friends who have been many times, but still didn’t know what to expect of Walsingham. This made it even more special to arrive for the first time having walked the ancient pilgrim route from Ely, across the fens and the gentle roll of Norfolk fields. Ben (another ordinand training for the Priesthood at Mirfield) and I walked the 75 miles in three days, accepting pilgrim’s hospitality each night. Other than the beauty of the countryside, the best bit of each day was arriving at our hosts after a long day’s walking. A couple of weeks before setting out, we had emailed 3 Parish Priests suitably dispersed along the route to ask for someone to stay. In each case, we arrived strangers and left the next morning, after breakfast and Morning Prayer, good friends. Ben and I were welcomed as family with practical kindness and warm hearts: sharing food, drink, chat and laughter with those good enough to give us a bed for the night.
Although it was only three days from Ely to Walsingham I was relieved and excited to see the top of the Slipper Chapel emerge over the fields (it turns out I am as unfit as I had feared!). Shoes off. Rosaries out. We prayed and winced our way down the Holy Mile to the Shrine in time to shower, sooth blisters and get cassocks on in time to join the other College pilgrims (who had arrived by car) for the first visit to the Holy House – a shrine house representing the house of the Holy Family in which Jesus grew up.
The following week saw beautiful healing services, annointings and confessions, trips to Norwich Cathedral and the cell of the saintly Lady Julian of Norwich, snowdrop walks in the ruined Priory, snowy stations of the cross and house parties with the young people volunteering at the Shrine.
A good time was had by all and a wonderful preparation for the drama and intensity of Holy Week. All of us revisited, or discovered for the first time, the beauty and peace of the Shrine, and the closeness in love to the love of Mary who said ‘Yes!’ to God.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.