Wonderfully Made – The Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage 2019

Posted on the 30th Oct 2019 in the category News


As ‘ear-worms’ go this was a pretty good one for the five-hundred or so young people who attended this year’s Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage to get stuck with. “I can see the fingerprints of God when I look at you” they sang with great gusto, expressing the conviction that each one of us is ‘Wonderfully Made’ in the image and likeness of God, “covered with the fingerprints of God” called to reflect his glory and a masterpiece of creation.


Each year a team of us plans the five day Youth Pilgrimage to carefully reflect some of the challenges and questions that our young pilgrims bring with them. This year we wanted to pick up the theme of self-image, which can take such a battering from the pressures of Social Media and the celebrity culture that looks for ‘perfection’ in a limited understanding of what is beautiful.


Walsingham is an extraordinary place to ask that question “who am I?” as it presents us with a joyful affirmation of human dignity and destiny in the vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a dignity which rests not on fame and fortune but on the call of Almighty God and our response to that call.


We gathered as a diverse group of pilgrims, from different social backgrounds and settings, but the striking thing about the Youth Pilgrimage is that it gives to all the security to enjoy one another’s company, to be challenged by the gospel, to grow in confidence as a Christian, and to grow. We strive to provide ways that these young Christians can meet one another, and ‘The Hub’ – a café style space for them to socialise together- is one of the places this happens; one afternoon there I noticed a Chaldean Catholic Deacon from Iraq talking to Swedish Lutheran teenagers –at an Anglican pilgrimage!


The devotions so familiar to all Walsingham pilgrims formed the framework for teaching and led our young pilgrimages on a journey of exploration and discovery. As we gathered together for the First Visit on the Monday evening we heard those astonishing words of Psalm 139 that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, and as each pilgrim entered the Holy House they could look into a large mirror bearing the words ‘Wonderfully Made’ to see the reflection of themselves and the image of Our Lady of Walsingham – both called and loved by God.


Our Mass on Tuesday morning looked at what we mean by saying that we are created in God’s image, before moving on in the evening to think about how we are made for relationship with God and one another as we made a rather soggy Holy Mile procession to the Shrine grounds, there to fall silent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to receive Christ’s blessing at Benediction. We can sometimes talk easily about Walsingham being a ‘thin place’, a place where heaven and earth are met, and as 500 young people knelt silently praying, seemingly oblivious to the rain, the reality of that was plain to see.


Wednesday’s theme was the incarnation and God’s taking of human flesh – filling it with the dignity of his life. After an afternoon of fun activities we gathered again in the ‘Big Top’ marquee where all our worship is held to celebrate the healing graces that abound at Walsingham, and in response to a challenging sermon from Bishop Philip North our pilgrims received the water from the well, prayed for wholeness and healing with the laying-on of hands and anointing, and received that joyful assurance of the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and the queues of penitents will have been a cause of great joy in heaven.


Bringing a group to the youth pilgrimage can sometimes be tiring and hard work, and for the Shrine it is a tremendous undertaking and responsibility, but if ever encouragement were needed it comes from the knowledge that during this week lives are changed, hope is renewed, and the fire of faith is kindled in many young hearts. We’re conscious that this grace comes as a gift from God, and that many are joined with us in prayer and generosity –not least through the ‘Godparents’ scheme, and we are hugely grateful for this.


We anticipated the celebration of Mary’s Assumption into heaven on Thursday, seeing in that glorious ending to her earthly life a sign of our own call to life with God for ever. The message of closing Mass was summed-up by Bishop Philip North in just six words: “Eat the body, be the body“. We focused on belonging to the Church as members of the Body of Christ, fed by the Body of Christ.


After Mass the pilgrims left the big top, still dancing and singing “covered with the finger prints of God”.


It’ a truth we hope they never forget.


For photos of this year’s Youth Pilgrimage, follow this link:



Fr Philip Barnes

Holy Cross Day in Rochester Cathedral

Posted on the 30th Oct 2019 in the category News



Priests and people from eight different dioceses filled the nave of Rochester Cathedral on Holy Cross Day, 14 September, as they joined with Bishop Norman Banks for his Richborough Family Festival. 


A congregation of over four hundred, including the Bishop of Rochester, first participated prayerfully in a festival Mass, concelebrated by many priest-brothers of the Society of the Holy Cross, which co-sponsored the day as it marked its patronal commemoration. 


Younger members of the congregation read and led the intercessions, with gift bags for their junior siblings. All present also took home Richborough Family wristbands, accessories which proved highly popular! In his homily, Bishop Norman reminded the congregation that in the Cross we find life, health and salvation, and thus that we should look for strength to the crucified Saviour in times of trial and distress.


There was time after Mass to explore the cathedral and city, with some pilgrims opting to eat their picnics in the grounds of Rochester Castle, and there to enjoy the day's fine weather. Other members of the Richborough Family visited the arresting "Knife Angel" installation in the cathedral garth, a peripatetic national monument against knife violence and aggression.


But before long it was time once more to worship, at a beautiful service of Choral Evensong with which the Festival drew to its close. Visiting musicians (members of "SiNG - the Travelling Evensong Choir") sang Bruckner, Brewer and Goss, and the diocesan bishop invited Bishop Norman to pronounce the final blessing.


The celebrations continued for some in a number of local restaurants and hostelries, while others boarded their coaches to return to their parishes, full of faith, hope and joy.


A similar celebration is proposed for 2020, to take place at Canterbury Cathedral. Further details will be made available in due course

Richborough Family Festival

Posted on the 30th Oct 2019 in the category News

A record number of people attended the Richborough Family Festival which took place at The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban on Saturday the 10th of August. For many years the Cathedral hosted a monthly Eucharist ‘Attended by members of Forward in Faith’ in the Lady Chapel and the Richborough Festival grew out of that, with a Sung Mass in the Lady Chapel followed by a picnic lunch in the Bishop’s garden at Parkside House. For the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 the service was moved into the cathedral nave due to the larger numbers expected, and the following year saw the Lady Chapel overflowing with the result that the service moved back into the nave for 2018 and 2019. This year several-hundred people attended, with many parishes organising coaches from as far afield as Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Walsingham.


The observance this year was St Lawrence, which as Bishop Norman reminded us in his homily, is sometimes spelt as Laurence in the Church of England. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome under Pope Sixtus II who were martyred in the persecution of Christians that the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered in 258. The actual details of his martyrdom are thin; his examiners are said to have insisted he produce the Church treasures, for which he was responsible. He promptly did so: assembling all the poor, he is reputed to have said, “These are the treasures of the Church.” The story of his being put to death on a gridiron is a much later addition to his story, though he is invariably depicted holding such, as is customary for martyrs to hold the implement of their torture.


Following the Mass the majority of the congregation made the short walk to the Bishop’s garden to consume their picnics, accompanied by plentiful amounts of wine, tea and coffee. As has become the custom, a short Bible Study followed, delivered by Bishop Norman from the conveniently placed balcony, a vista not unlike St Peter’s in Rome (a fact not missed by the Bishop who began ‘Urbi et Orbi..’!). A short exposition of St Paul followed, though many of us had half an eye on the sky, the rain having only just held off.


With an hour or so to spare, many went off to sample all that St Albans had to offer in the way of shopping, before returning to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong at 4 p.m., superbly sung by the choir of St Luke’s, Chelsea, the Cathedral Choir being on their summer holiday.


With many of our churches spread far apart, festivals such as this provide an excellent opportunity for both clergy and people to come together and remind everyone of the importance of the Richborough Family.


Fr Benjamin Weitzmann




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