Cardinal leads more than 1,000 on annual Westminster pilgrimage to Walsingham

On 23rd September, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham welcomed over a thousand pilgrims from the diocese on the annual pilgrimage, led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

Many parishes held their banners high and joined in the celebration of Mary as ‘Mother of the Home’, which served as the theme. Westminster Youth Ministry also brought a coach full of younger pilgrims.

All awoke early to make the drive up from London, eager to follow the call through which, the pilgrimage director, Fr John McKenna described, ‘God is continually building up the people of God to journey with him on a pilgrimage of faith.’

The day started with Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Vincent, along with Bishop Michael Campbell and many other priests of the diocese. Also concelebrating was Fr Robert Billing, the new rector of the shrine, who was to be installed the next day.

In total, there were over 30 parishes present, representing 14 deaneries.

In his homily, the Cardinal spoke of Mary as the ‘heart of the family’, and that ‘she knows our troubles and our joys. She is with us every step of the way. She can bring the stability of love that every family needs.’

‘Today we are invited into Mary’s own home, once so wondrously replicated here in Walsingham.’

‘Recently the Children’s Commissioner for England, an important public official, spoke of the importance of the family … children recognise that more important than the school is the family. They look to their family for love, for protection, for life. They have a natural sense for the wider family, recognising deep friendships as strengthening family life. 78% of children said that when they are facing challenges, they would turn first of all to their family.

‘Today we pray for all families. We want to say loudly that strong families are the fabric of a healthy society and that families need support and encouragement. Families are not a problem to be solved, but a resource to be strengthened. As one young boy said: ‘A loving family is worth far more than any money’.

“Today we pray for all families and we ask our Blessed Lady to be the protector and champion of family life in our land today. Then we will be, more and more, the Dowry of Mary.’

After the Mass, there was an opportunity to explore the grounds of the Shrine and Slipper Chapel before gathering for the procession down the Holy Mile. The Shrine, specifically the Slipper Chapel, the Chapel of Reconciliation and the domain, were granted minor basilica status by Pope Francis on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2015, after a petition was sent to Rome for approval by Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia.

Young people who had travelled with Westminster Youth Ministry led the procession, carrying the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham all the way to the grounds of the old Priory where the Holy House had stood. There, Cardinal Vincent led all present in Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was then processed to the exact place the Holy House would have stood for the final prayers and dismissal.