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.
I’ve been fortunate in the last couple of years to walk two stretches of the ancient pilgrimage route in the North of Spain, the Camino to Santiago de Compostela and I will return this month to walk the final 13 days, together with my wife. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is getting chatting with people along the way, people from all over the world, and who are walking the Camino for a host of different reasons. I have had an almost palpable sense on the Camino of the sacred and the miraculous. It’s one of the places that the ancient Celts would have described as having a ‘thin veil’ between earth and heaven.
The Irish Chaplaincy pilgrimage day began at Kenwood House with a cup of tea and a Camino prayer (shown below) and we set off, the young and the old, the fast and the slow, on foot or by scooter, through Hampstead Heath and over Parliament Hill to enjoy spectacular views of the changing London skyline. After a stretch on the roads we were back into the parks: Primrose Hill (with another great view), then Regent’s Park where we stopped by the boating lake for a well-earned lunch. Thanks to public transport (some of us making more use of it than others!!) we all got to Westminster Cathedral, the (physical) destination of our pilgrimage, in time for mass in St Patrick’s Chapel.
O God, Be for us our companion on the walk,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our albergue on the Camino,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.
So that with your guidance we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road and enriched
with grace and virtue we return safely to our homes filled with joy.