It is easy for us all to take things for granted, to think that if we don’t attend an event it will be alright as someone else will go. This month we are lucky enough to have two Bank Holidays. As tempting as it may be to sit at home and enjoy your garden (should the weather be unusually warm) on the 30th of May there is an alternative. In 1992 before the vote at General Synod on the ordination of women the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady Walsingham was one of the largest on record. Priests and people gathered in Walsingham to ask for Our Lady’s prayers, to celebrate their faith and to support each other through the difficult months ahead. We have such an opportunity this year. With votes on women in the epsicopate looming in our Diocesan Synods, with further discussions taking place we need to continue united under the patronage of Our Lady. We need to gather not to moan about the future but to celebrate the tenets of our faith, to worship God together and to look forward with hope as we seek to work together in mission. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham has so much to offer our constituency and the wider church.
It is a place of prayer and reflection, which in a busy world, is desperately needed. The retreats offered for priests and deacons are of particular value as they allow our priests to set time aside to reflect on their vocation. It is a place where the scriptures are studied and where there can be a return and a reawakening
of Catholic biblical study. Through the bible weekends more and more people are coming to know more deeply the joy of reading and studying the bible. The Shrine also serves as a place to encourage mission and evangelism, it shows us just what can be done in our parishes, how we can engage with the Fresh Expressions movement in a Catholic way and how we can seek to reach out to more and more people in our communities. This year the Shrine has set the target of 1000 young people attending the Youth Pilgrimage in celebration of the Shrine’s anniversary.
If you have never been to the Youth Pilgrimage it is an amazing week. Young people gather from all across the country, and indeed across Europe to pray and to worship together. From the exuberant joy of the daily Mass to the exquisite silence of the all night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament it is a powerful week where the faith is shared. It is hard to know what Lady Richeldis thought would become of the Holy House she was instructed to build. She could not have foreseen the destruction of the Shrine by Henry VIII, nor the rediscovery of the Shrine by both Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the last century. Walsingham is truly a place where different denominations can come together. There is one Shrine in Walsingham in the old Abbey grounds but many centres of devotion. In the years ahead it will be essential that we seek to find new ways to work together ecumenically. We share a love of Our Lady and this is something on which much can be built. The sight of the Anglican Guardians processing with the Slipper Chapel Statue at the recent celebrations in Westminster Cathedral was a powerful one. We all have a duty to work together as Christians under the patronage of Mary as Mother of the Church. The Shrine at Walsingham has been a centre of prayer and study for 950 years: let us all unite to help it as it continues in this work proclaiming the Catholic faith to our children and grandchildren. And so to begin with let us all ensure that this year’s National Pilgrimage is one of the best ever attended; let us gather around our Bishops; let us celebrate our love for Our Lady with loud Aves and celebrations.
We are coming to the end of the process of Deanery discussions about the ordination of women to the episcopate. Those who have take part in these discussions deserve our heartfelt thanks. It is no easy task to be in a minority in a room full of string opinions. As the Synodical process moves forward our attention must turn to Diocesan Synods. It is to be hoped that even in those dioceses where the measure as it stands is passed the following motion(s) will be accepted as well. Those of our members on Diocesan Synods have our prayers as they continue with the valuable work of affirming our belief in Catholic ministry and practise in our Church of England.