Imagine the scene – a field in the middle of nowhere, transformed into a camp site complete with a central big top. From this big top comes the sound of 300+ voices raised in praise of God. Look inside to see teenagers kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at the moment of consecration and sharing the message of the Gospel. This is the nub of the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage.
This year the theme was ‘Illuminate: Shining as Lights in the World’. Young people were challenged to become lights for Christ in many different ways and to continue shining in their lives back at home; a message backed up in the daily bible studies. Together, we explored why we should read our bibles, why go to church and bigger questions such as how to pray. It was a joy to share ideas with the pilgrims, who were given cards to take away with ideas for next steps, a bible verse, and a prayer to use at home.
Daily mass in the big top provided the backbone of the pilgrimage, but we did venture to the Shrine itself for a first visit to the Holy House, where each group was able to light a 7-day candle to burn throughout the week for their intentions. We also gathered at the Roman Catholic shrine before walking the Holy Mile in procession, reciting the rosary as we went. Surrounded by wildflowers, in the peace of the countryside, this was incredibly moving. It ended with benediction in the Anglican Shrine grounds in total silence, candle lit and with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop.
However, fellowship with other pilgrims is vital and there was plenty of time to enjoy a film night with barbeque, an Ultimate Frisbee contest, football tournament and skills, and – of course – the activity afternoon. This saw the arrival of a bungee trampoline, human table football, inflatable challenges, parkour workshops and craft activities. There was even an ice cream van! The main area for socialising was The Hub – a huge marquee with table tennis and other games, colouring, a collaborative mosaic project, and the tuck shop.
An event like this does not run itself and there are opportunities to volunteer and help out. Firstly, we have a Ministry Team, who give up 2 weeks of their time to plan and prepare during Prep Week, then to interact with pilgrims during the week, run The Hub and star on stage in a variety of videos and skits. Secondly, the Stewarding Team, who arrive for the event itself, who assist our event management company with safety, marshalling and leading the dancing in the big top.
This was my second ever Youth Pilgrimage and, as last year, it was a privilege to be involved. From managing bookings to obtaining games and liaising with suppliers, the run-up to the event is intense. However, standing in the middle of the field on the first evening with all the tents erected, everyone safely on site and watching the young people socialise and have a good time made the effort more than worthwhile.
It’s never been easier to come to the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage. You can even book catering and tents! We’d love to see you next year – 5th – 9th of August 2024 – to help us make even more memories.
Jane Southward, Education Officer,
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham