There is a good tradition in L’Arche, my previous organization, of going on pilgrimage. Each year in May or June the normal routine of life is put to one side and people walk together for 4 days. It was always one of the highlights of the year for me, that opportunity to walk with people along the North Kent coastline or through the countryside. And some years we even went along the original Pilgrims’ Way, where people have passed for hundreds of years on their way to Canterbury. Indeed each day when I cycle or walk to Canterbury West station to get the train to London I go along the road that leads down to the West Gate and towards the Cathedral that Henry ll crawled along on his hands and knees as the final atonement for his part in the murder of Thomas a Becket. As with the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury Cathedral, a pilgrimage usually has a final destination, a designated ‘sacred place’. And, happily, pilgrimage routes seem usually to have lovely scenery to enjoy. But perhaps they give us as well a chance to look at things differently; to be open to whatever is given; and to give thanks for blessings received, whether big or small.
This year the Irish Chaplaincy celebrates its 60th birthday. Set up by the Irish bishops as the Irish Emigrant Chaplaincy in a very different social, political and cultural climate, it continues today to provide an outreach service to some of the most vulnerable Irish people in Britain.