In these days of sat-navs, self-driving cars and Google maps, we are not used to turning to the stars for navigation. We easily forget how important the night sky has been – particularly for sailors when no other technology was available. In March 2018 almost 200 people gathered in Walsingham and turned into Star Trekkers. Amongst primary school children the Science Fiction series with a similar title is probably just as unheard of as old fashioned sextants. So we just went back to basics and followed the example of the Magi from S. Matthew’s gospel and followed a great big star that leads us to the place where the Christ Child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. (Matthew 2.10-11)
OK – the House in S. Matthew’s gospel was in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth, but the Holy House of the Holy Family of England’s Nazareth was close enough for us. We paid our First Visit and opened our weekend of worship, fun activities and fellowship by placing our banners and all the prayers we had brought from home at the feet of Our Lady in the Holy House.
This year’s pilgrimage theme is Mary, Star of Hope. Mary, like a fixed star, points the pilgrim towards Christ her Son – the Morning Star that never sets. We bring our gifts and prayers, and receive in turn the blessings of Christ’s presence in our lives.
The Epiphany theme of the Children’s Pilgrimage did not only bring back the liturgical season of Christmastide, the weather too went back to winter mode. It was so cold and snowy that the only stars we could see all weekend were the star-shaped snow-flakes and icy crystals. Unfortunately, this meant we couldn’t use the large inflatable bouncy castles that were waiting for us in the Shrine gardens. On the Sunday morning they were covered in a lovely light dusting of snow. But the children had great fun anyway. In the Pilgrim Hall, the Orangery and the Shrine Refectory, craft activities and indoor games were a welcome opportunity to meet each other and to burn off some energy. Some frost-bite resistant pilgrims even ventured a walk to the village play-ground.
In our worship we were led by a music group of experienced Walsingham youth volunteers: Millie Gibson, Susi Whitehouse, James Green and Jonathan Bardwell created a wonderful and worshipful atmosphere with their instruments and voices. Several pilgrimage groups enriched our worship: S. Alban, Holborn put on a fantastic dramatic version of the gospel reading of the visit of the Magi; S. Martin, Ruislip provided excellent servers – who dressed as camels, led the offertory procession and brought the gifts of bread, wine and water to the altar; the Chichester group led the readings and intercessions, and were the serving team on Sunday morning. The interaction with the young pilgrims was brilliant.
After Benediction on the Sunday afternoon, the children were invited to take their hand-crafted star boxes with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh back home and let the light of Christ twinkle in the families and homes.
We look forward to seeing you all again next year.
(A full range of photos of this event can be found in the Photo Gallery. Click here)