Pentecost “Pilgrimage of Christendom”

Friday 28th June 2019

I am a young woman of Salford Cathedral Parish. At Pentecost, I made a 1,000 mile round trip to join the “Pilgrimage of Christendom”, the largest pilgrimage in Western Europe, with 20,000 other young Catholics, priests and religious from over 30 countries, walking 72-miles in three days from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Chartres Cathedral houses a relic of Our Lady’s Veil and a revered statue of “Our Lady of Christendom”. Past pilgrims include popes, kings of France and England, and saints including Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, and Mary, Queen of Scots.

On Saturday June 8, after early morning mass, thousands of pilgrims formed a bright ribbon of colour through the streets of Paris, jubilantly singing the rosary, hymns and litanies, bearing flags, banners, and statues of a multitude of saints and nations, each armed with just a small pilgrim bag of water, prayer book and rosary.

My banner, of Mancunian martyr St Ambrose Barlow (whose skull is retained at Wardley Hall) was carried in penance for the renewal of the spiritual life of the Diocese, the Bishop’s intentions, and for priestly and consecrated life.

The days passed in a blur of green fields, blisters, aching limbs, chemical toilets, damp sleeping bags on hard, rocky ground, communal cold water wash-troughs, 5am wakeup calls, meagre meals of stale bread with watery packet soup,  punctuated by daily mass – a lengthy, elaborate affair, sung entirely in Latin.

Highlights included open-air Pentecost Mass with 20,000 pilgrims of all nationalities and races, praying together in the universal language of the Church and singing together, “Veni Creator Spiritus”; overnight adoration with the Monstrance illuminated by the night stars; our triumphant arrival at Chartres; and veneration of Our Lady’s Veil in an ancient underground crypt.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us “To go on pilgrimage means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where His grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness”. Thus our physical journey to the Marian sanctuary of Chartres symbolised each of our interior journeys, into our ‘upper rooms’, where our innermost selves sought Mary and the Holy Spirit; a journey from the corporeal to the spiritual, signified by muddy walking boots and aching back.

As members of the Church, we are all on a ‘pilgrimage of Christendom’, encompassing our entire lives. The word ‘parish’ is derived from the Greek paroikos, “a sojourner”, for our common home is not here on earth. We are journeying together, in communion with Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, towards our ultimate home in the heavenly Jerusalem.

In the words of Bishop John, “Stay with us Lord on our Journey”.

Written by Kamala Singh, parishioner of Salford Cathedral Parish 

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