Victoria McDougall reports on the Shrine’s annual Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal.
I am delighted to have joined the team at The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham as Director of Communications. My arrival just four weeks ago has coincided with a busy period in the calendar with the Youth Pilgrimage, Assumptiontide and The Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal all taking place in quick succession. The weeks have flown by.
The Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal which took place on bank holiday Monday, has left an indelible impression on me. So many had made the long journey to the Shrine to attend and this year’s event must surely be the hottest on record!
The hope of healing was one of the main reasons why pilgrims made their way to Walsingham in medieval times, and the tradition certainly holds true today. The daily service of Sprinkling at the Well is attended by thousands throughout the year.
I arrived in the morning to find a flurry of activity taking place behind-the-scenes with priests and the sacristy team making last mine minute preparations. Ben and Sue, members of Fr David’s team of wonderful volunteers, were warmly welcoming pilgrims as they arrived full of anticipation for the day ahead. 100s of pilgrims of all ages gathered in the Shrine gardens, the brave sitting in front of the Altar of Light under the full glare of the sun, whilst many – quite understandably! – moved their chairs to the shaded parts of the garden under the trees. We were joined by many families too and over 50 young children took part in fun-packed activities in the Orangery, led by our Schools and Young Pilgrims Officer, Caroline Ward.
Following a warm welcome by Fr Kevin, the service, led by the Principal Celebrant, the Right Reverend Robert Ladds, former Bishop of Whitby and Superior-General of the Society of Mary, began with sung concelebrated Mass of Our Lady at 12 noon. Readings, prayers and the wonderful offertory Hymm ‘Joy to thee Queen! Within thine ancient Dowry’ set the tone of the Pilgrimage, and everyone received communion from the numerous stations in the garden – Shrine staff are clearly well practiced at celebrating with large numbers of people!
Following picnic lunch in the garden, at 2.30pm the Sprinkling, Laying-on of Hands and Annointing ceremony began. ‘Mary of Walsingham, Mother of Jesus’ sounded out through the garden as we burst into song. The sermon by the Reverend Canon Gary Ecclestone, Vicar of Hanslope with Castlethrope in the Diocese of Oxford, was hugely appreciated by everyone. His rendition of the song ‘Mrs Beamish’ was very funny, but what followed was a powerful and beautiful address about Jesus’ ministry of healing – the significance of his soothing touch illustrated by Matthew’s account of Jesus healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law. “How many times in our lives do we need that reassuring touch of the Lord,” asked Fr Gary. The touch of Jesus is a touch of wholeness and is comes about through a succession of experiences and touches through our lives. He encouraged us to reach out and reach that touch.
The Sprinkling of water to the many gathered pilgrims in the gardens followed. As we stood in line waiting our turn, water from the ancient well within the Shrine Church was given out by the ministry team. We were given water to drink, the sign of the cross was marked on our foreheads, and water was poured on our outstretched hands as a sign of God’s healing. It was wonderfully cooling given the blazing heat!
The Blessed Sacrament was processed through to the garden to the altar. The Benediction, prayers and adoration followed and we were once again reminded that each one of us is precious in God’s sight. The beautiful day concluded with the Divine Praises led by Fr Kevin Smith.
I am looking forward to attending – and indeed lending a hand – at the Shrine’s Pilgrimage for Healing and Renewal for many years to come.