Graham Lunn writes with some recent news from East Anglia

The Norfolk sky is variably beautifully clear and dismally grey, the pheasant have been shot and the pigeons multiply, and the Holy House of England’s Nazareth flickers, as ever, in candlelight. Between the Immaculate Conception and Candlemass the Shrine has no resident pilgrims, giving the staff a chance to brush up on cleaning, painting, and decorating skills. The ‘pilgrimage season’ kicked off with a bang, or rather, with the sound of the wheeling suitcases of around 180 clergy arriving for the annual Priests and Deacons Retreat Pilgrimage. Edifying addresses from Bishops Rowan Williams and Dominic Walker and the Dean of Worcester on the theme of Friendship set the tone for a week of prayer, study, and fellowship.

Our biggest Children’s Weekend for many years was, of course, much fun, even if the Shrine Priest felt it politic to let the Interim Priest Administrator win at giant Jenga (other block-based garden games are available). The aforementioned Administrator is Fr Philip Barnes, a marvellous re-addition to the home team, he having served as Shrine Priest in the not-too-distant past. He was licensed by the Bishop of Norwich, who remarked on the ‘elastic band’ attached to clergy who have been in his diocese, though they should stray as far as ‘the people’s republic of Willesden’.

The Walsingham Partnership is a group of pilgrims who commit to support particular projects at the Shrine in a planned programme of giving. Around 120 of these friends came for a weekend in February, during which the pilgrimage programme was supplemented with informative updates on the Shrine’s work, an excellent lecture on medieval pilgrimage, a delicious dinner, and indescribable entertainment from our resident duo, Plunge and Gusset.

Partly because for the first thirty-seven years of the Shrine’s refounded life the Administrator of the Shrine and the Vicar of Walsingham were one and the same remarkable character, the Shrine defers to the Parish Church on Sundays (when there is no Sung Mass in the Shrine) and at other times of the year, such as Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum. This year’s spiritual guide for these great celebrations was Fr John Gribben CR, a Guardian of the Shrine, who spoke with his characteristic charm and ability to move deeply. Not to consider an Ulsterman a foreigner, but Fr John is not the only recent visitor from beyond the mainland – 1000 Filipino pilgrims on Palm Sunday and nearly 100 Swedish guests in Easter Week continue to make the poem of Robert Lowell ring true: ‘and the world shall come to Walsingham’. ND

The Revd Graham Lunn is Shrine Priest at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham