Will Lyon Tupman, one of our Pastoral Assistants this year at St Michael's, visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham for the first time recently, as part of the Adoremus young adults' pilgrimage. Here follows his reflection on the experience:
Just over a couple of months ago, I made my very first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham - a particularly sacred place in Norfolk affectionately known as 'England's Nazareth', and where many Christians frequently gather to worship the Lord. Many parishes and other groups make their pilgrimage there, and my first encounter was with Adoremus (a pilgrimage for young adults, aged eighteen to thirty-five). I thoroughly enjoyed my first time at Walsingham, and as soon as our weekend there ended, I found myself looking forward to my next pilgrimage.
During the weekend, we had a series of workshops where we discussed various aspects of Christian living, vocation, and practising evangelism. As well as finding such a chance to openly discuss the Christian faith with other like-minded people in this way particularly valuable, one of the most significant things I was reminded of was how all Christians have a common vocation in our Baptism. This is then supplemented by our distinct vocations (such as to academia, priesthood, teaching, nursing, foster care, a combination of these, and many more). What a great joy, to be united with Christ and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ by our common Baptism, as well as in the wide variety of ways in which God's gifts are manifest in us and our lives.
We spent many hours together in worship, and our first visit to the Holy House is an experience which I will always remember. The stunning altar and statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was most striking to me; no amount of searching for pictures of the Shrine on Google Images could have prepared me for the experience of actually visiting the Shrine and praying there! Some of us returned there the following evening spontaneously to say Evening Prayers together there. The Mass at St. Mary's Parish Church was also very moving, together with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament afterwards. But perhaps my favourite service we all attended was on the Saturday evening - after a beautiful Mass, we received the liturgy of Reconciliation (including the anointing by the priests), and we then prayed for a while afterwards in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Shrine Church. With no time limit, and no need to think of anything else at all at that time, we could easily keep our eyes focused on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) - something we should always aim to do throughout our lives, at all times and in all places, as best as we can.
On the Saturday afternoon of the pilgrimage, we had some free time. Many walked the Holy Mile to the Slipper Chapel (something I would like to do on my next pilgrimage to Walsingham); others stayed at the Shrine; and some of us went for a nice and relaxing walk by the sea in Wells. I was in the latter group, taking photos of the beautiful seascape as I went. Especially since my first Walsingham pilgrimage, I now often pray when I go to the beach. I'm often in Church when I pray; certainly, I find it especially easy to focus on my prayer when I'm in a magnificent building like St. Michael's Croydon. But I also feel very lucky indeed to be able to pray anywhere - for God created all things, and He is omnipresent (that is, present at all times and in all places). To pray somewhere where the natural beauty of His creation is so powerfully evident, such as at the beach, for me is always a wonderful and moving experience.
In many ways, the Adoremus weekend felt to me like a retreat. A different context; a different set of surroundings; a different setting. Only the previous weekend, I'd been on a wonderful retreat at Cumberland Lodge (Windsor) with the Chaplaincy of King's College London; again, a weekend of interactive classes and other activities, fellowship and worship, and in a different setting. This was also very helpful to my process of discernment. But I think that while a pilgrimage has all of these characteristics of a retreat, it is also distinct from being a retreat; we make our pilgrimage to a particular place, and - in the case of Walsingham - to a Shrine where Marian apparitions have occurred, and to a place where Christians from all around the country are drawn to see - and drawn to be.
Over the past couple of months, I've observed the positive impact my first visit to Walsingham has had on my journey in the discernment process, my devotion (especially when praying the Angelus and the Rosary), and my faith as a whole. Together with the experiences of my time so far at St. Michael's, I feel I now have a much greater understanding and appreciatio n of the person and role of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To take a couple of further examples, I often think of that feeling of awe when I first visited the stunning Holy House in the Anglican Shrine - especially as I say Morning and Evening Prayers in Church. Moreover, whenever I serve at Low Mass, I am usually either near or facing the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham - a comforting daily reminder to me of how a candle is lit in the Shrine Church at Walsingham, where St. Michael's is prayed for there every da y, together with many other Churches.
One of the things I loved the most about the pilgrimage was meeting the community with whom I stayed there; like - minded people, new friends and Church family, and we all had a wonderful time together. In pilgrimage, in worship, in prayer, and of course in fellowship and friendship during our free time at meals and at the pub! I will continue to keep in touch with all those I met there, as we journey onwards together in the Christian faith - and I'm hugely looking forwa rd to my next pilgrimage to Walsingham.