Sunday, October 28, 2012

Twenty miles along the Thames...

...is a looooooong walk. But we did it, and a grand team of  John Paul II Walkers  packed out the chapel the Shrine of Our Lady of Westminster at Hampton Wick,  in good voice for Evening Prayer and Benediction, and then did full justice to splendid supper laid on by the Sons of Divine Providence and their team of helpers.

A wonderful day: the Thames Pilgrimage, praying for the New Evangelisation. This was planned partly as a Reunion for the young people who took part in the Summer's Walking Pilgrimage to Walsingham, but it turned out to be much, much more than that.

Arriving at Westminster Cathedral for Mass, I met D., who a couple of weeks earlier had walked a long part of the route with me, helping to plan the day. The Cathedral is always full for the Sunday Masses, so we were glad to find two places near the front. A glorious Mass - as always at the Cathedral, magnificent music -  and Fr Simon Heans, our chaplain for the day, concelebrated. Then out into the piazza - to be confrontd by a grand crowd of people, far more than I had hoped or imagined, all ready and eager for the Pilgrimage Walk along the Thames!

Down Buckingham Palace Road and along to Chelsea Bridge, across the river and into Battersea Park, where, now free of traffic noise, we were able to start praying the Rosary, led by Sister Hyacinthe.  Before leaving the park, we settled for a pleasant lunch, Fr Simon saying Grace, and by now we felt like a real community together. On down the Thames Path, Sister Hyacinthe giving us some excellent talks along the way, all equipped with microphone and notes: Vatican II, the Scriptures...

The weather was just right, the river rippled peacefully, golden leaves were strewn at our feet. Joggers and walkers passed us and we exchanged greetings: they asked about our banner (Our Lady of Walsingham)  and gave good wishes when we told them we had walked from Westminster Cathedral.  Kindly people at a Boat Club let us use the loos. Wandsworth, Putney, Barnes...we broke into hymns, we prayed the Rosary, we walked and  chatted...

Dusk was falling by now. We cut along the Upper Richmond Road so as to avoid the big loop of the river by Kew, and at Richmond an advance party caught the bus to Kingston. The rest of us  rejoined the river and walked , in darkness now... the line of walkers became straggly, well spaced out along the dark towpath. I went back and forth with my torch calling out in reassurance. We had children and parents,  and  young people and middle-aged and elderly among us.  A family of children walked happily together, the girls telling me with enthusiasm about their school (St Catherine's) as we passed it on the opposite side of the river: I was able to tell them that my mother was at that same school, more than seventy years ago, and was happy there  just as they were. A group of girls from various countries at a London hostel, led by a delightful nun, walked cheerily along swapping laughter and chat, oblivious to discomforts even though one was wearing beautiful blue shoes more suitable for dancing than a 20-mile hike.  Deacon Henry, who joined us from Oscott seminary, walked with vigour, unconcerned by the fact that this long day was the prelude to an early start on the morrow when he'd be flying to Rome on pilgrimage.  A team from St Patrick's Soho Square had brought Ambrose, Fr Alexander's dog, who seemed, like them, to be of inexhaustible energy.

The very last bit, once we had crossed the river just beyond Teddington Lock, was the only bit that felt really tiring: by now we were walking past ordinary houses and were nearly at our destination. And then, finally, we were there - a wonderful welcome, a true sense of homecoming, and the Sons of Divine Providence, accompanied by the Herald of the Gospels (a splendid group with the most magnificent religious habits I have ever seen!) literally welcoming us with open arms.

A chapel filled with prayer, a table laid with delicious food...a time to give thanks and there were speeches and cheers and applause.  Then relaxing, much talk, thoughtful conversations about hopes for the New Evangelisation, the worries about the future of our country and of Europe...

Vocations to the priesthood are up, there is a sense of great seriousness about prayer for the years ahead, the Year of Faith has been launched...this is a time for commitment and for courage.






1 comment:

StewBo said...

Yes it was a great day out, I know because I was there.