Elise Gallagher reports from the Walsingham ‘18–30’ Pilgrimage
Yes, it’s true today, that when people stand with the fire of God and the truth at hand, we’ll see miracles, we’ll see angels sing, we’ll see broken hearts, making history.’
An ‘18–30s’ weekend is not usually associated with the lyrics of the Delirious song ‘History Maker’ above, and although a certain amount of gin was consumed, this group of young adults thirsted for truth and divine direction as well as the beverages that the Bull Inn could offer.
2011 has been a year of celebration at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham; it has looked back on the 950 years since Richeldis received the vision of Our Lady and used its history to inspire children, young people, families and those in need of healing and renewal, as well as the regular customers! But at a time when young Anglo-Catholics may be struggling to find their place, voice and role within the Church, Walsingham appeared once again as a refuge for those who perhaps needed to be surrounded by like-minded people and to be guided in the presence of Our Lady.
Making a difference
The weekend was focused on how each of us can make a difference in the world through our own ministry and calling, and how we can pass on the message of the Gospel in an increasingly anti-religious society. Fr Stephen Gallagher (Youth Missioner at the Shrine) explained how, when contemplating the theme for the weekend, the idea for looking at individual mission and vocation had become a concern to him since young adults often struggle to understand where they fit in proclaiming the good news and living out God’s word in our daily lives. To this end, we heard from three different speakers who talked to us about their personal journeys with Christ and the importance of mission.
Thinking about mission
Bishop John Salt OGS, the former Bishop of St Helena, started off the proceedings by giving us an insight into the life of a missionary in Africa. Not being able to give a specific age or moment when he received a ‘call’ to this life, it became clear that Bishop John’s heart for mission had started with his birth and continued to grow in him throughout his life.
Giving himself officially to a missionary society at 21 years of age, Bishop John never knew where this could lead him, both physically and spiritually. He knows now that his calling was to South Africa where he spent much of his life before becoming the Bishop of St Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. In an age when being a missionary can seem somewhat extreme and colonial, hearing from Bishop John only succeeded in showing the importance of giving one’s life over to Christ to do with us what he will. Mission starts in the heart and Bishop John certainly fired up our hearts and minds into thinking about our own mission.
Saturday morning’s session continued along this theme, starting with the insight of Priest Philip, the Russian Orthodox priest for the Shrine. Giving us a little bit of his own biography, Priest Philip was keen to open our minds to seeing the good, and seeing God, even in the most
challenging and difficult parts of our lives. His own calling started in the Anglican Church, but after years of feeling uncomfortable with the workings of the church, he felt compelled to leave the priesthood. After years of laity and guidance from Orthodox friends and spiritual directors, he found himself at home and able to do what God wanted from him in the Russian Orthodox Church. When he truly gave his heart to God and let him lead him, he found solace and peace once again in his life and faith. Although Priest Philip had experienced such hard times with his ministry, his faith, trust and love in the Lord never faltered; Christ remained at the heart of his mission.
The religious life
Sister Theresa, Reverend Mother of the Sisters in Walsingham, then came to speak to us about the religious life in a secular society, her calling and how we can translate that mission into our own lives. First and foremost, Sister Theresa was keen to stipulate that, no matter the change in society, the secular world and the Church, the religious life had stayed the same and always would. In her mind, the tradition, the rituals and most aspects of her life as a nun had remained, while she as an individual had changed and grown in her faith and mission.
She gave a wonderfully down-to-earth account of her unexpected calling as a young girl at university; a girl who was studying Classics at Kings College London; a girl who wore jeans and followed fashion religiously; a girl whose parents were not regular churchgoers. Becoming friends with three others, two boys and a girl, who had felt called to the religious life, she become engrossed with thoughts of the convent and after having spent a lot of time thinking it over, decided to take her vows and ignored the strong feelings of love she had felt for one of her male friends.
God’s love had been stronger than that of anyone else she had known. Her moving story gave way to the realization for those gathered that sacrificing what we sometimes long for does not mean losing out. God gives back to us ten-fold and will never see us wrong if we only give our lives and hearts to him.
Sister Theresa’s testimony gave us food for thought and led to many questions about how we could live out our lives for Jesus even if we didn’t feel called to the religious life. Her answer: being. Not preaching, not campaigning, not fighting but being ourselves. Being the people that God wants us to be and showing God’s love to others in our every being.
Then it was the turn of the laity; the fantastic four of the Yr4God team who talked about the History Makers in their own lives and how these people have inspired them to be History Makers to others. These powerful, honest and very real testimonies gave way to a discussion that showed that, no matter the struggle, no matter the hardships, no matter the secular society in which we live, God will always guide and protect us along the way, if only we come to him and ask for his help.
This weekend gave us the opportunity to come to God and ask for his help. Through teaching, we heard how other people’s lives had been guided by God. Through the Eucharist, anointing, laying on of hands, confession and benediction, we, as young adults, came closer to God and in his presence asked to be guided.
Filled with the glory of the Lord and knowing that we had laid our intercessions at the feet of Our Lady, we left that holy shrine with courage, faith and hope that we would be able to witness to God’s love and let him work through us all the days of our lives. ND