A look back at England’s Way 2022
Written by Radio Maria England on 19/09/2022
England’s Way pilgrimage has run a second year in a row through the picturesque and rural setting of nature and many abbey ruins around Norfolk. Why go on pilgrimage? It is generally understood that to go on a pilgrimage is a mimicking of the journey of life. Our destination: heaven with God. Going on a pilgrimage is a deliberate stepping out of one’s normal timetable to focus on the important thing: developing your relationship with God. This is done through prayer, penance, meditation and of course the company of fellow pilgrims.
On 11th August at 8am a small group of people arrived at St Edmund’s Catholic Church in Bury-St-Edmunds welcomed by the parish priest, Fr David Bagstaff, who provided breakfast. Twelve pilgrims, some old and some new faces, were all equipped with the essentials for the walk. We moved from the presbytery to the Church to spend time in silent adoration of Our Lord. After dishing out rosaries, photos and loading bags into the bus, we were off walking down the quaint streets of Bury-St-Edmunds, with the sun accompanying us on our way. The friendly chatter amongst us encouraged a fraternal spirit and the hope of new friendships to blossom. The first stop was the abbey ruins near to the Anglican High Cathedral, where we had a short tour of the ruins with our tour guide. He told us the story of St Edmund, King and Martyr. We left the abbey ruins and started our pilgrimage with the rosary and a hymn to Our Lady guided by Fr Peter. Next stop: St Thomas of Canterbury in Weeting, Brandon where we were welcomed by Fr Luke who said Mass and preached a homily on forgiveness. Then, a glorious BBQ was cooked by one of his parishioners. One thing was certain that Our Lady was certainly looking after our stomachs.
The morning after we said morning prayer, we celebrated Mass and then had breakfast. We left Brandon ensuring that each pilgrim was well doused in sunscreen for the day, as there was a heat wave forecasted. Following the rosary and half an hour of silent meditation, we finished the silence singing Salve Regina and chatted happily among ourselves, sipping on water, exercising our legs and sweat glands. Next stop was Our Lady of Pity, Swaffham, where we were well received by Fr Christopher who allowed us to spend time with Our Lord in silent adoration, followed by a lovely feast prepared by the parishioners and served by Jane, Jacinta, Denise and Caroline. After evening prayer, we slept in the sports hall of Sacred Heart, primary school. Next stop was the most unique stop: Fakenham Racecourse, where we would sleep for the night, again provided with good food by the generosity of Camilla, one of the pilgrims and her husband. After dinner, we sang songs and celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption. The following day, as weary as we were, we picked up our rucksacks and made for Walsingham. The heat on our backs was very draining, but still we arrived in time for the Mass. Afterwards pilgrims contemplated the serene calm of the shrine, visited the Slipper Chapel where they left petitions, or went to confession. We walked the holy mile to our next accommodation at Elmham House, where an actual bed awaited us for the night! Fr Peter became a little unwell, and couldn’t celebrate Mass in the Slipper Chapel the following day to conclude the pilgrimage, but Our Lady knowing our needs sent us another priest who adopted us for the final Mass, Fr Gonzalo from Cadiz Spain. We pray that Mary will allow England’s Way to happen again next year.
Memories from Pilgrim Camilla: The pilgrimage began with a breakfast and adoration in Bury beneath the statue of St Edmund in the Church and walking through the ruins of the 1000-year-old abbey. Father Peter, inspired by pilgrims in Norway, began mornings with conversation and followed with a finite time of prayerful and reflective silence. We were blessed with a Mass at Castle Acre – bringing back the words of the Eucharist to the ravaged walls where it had been banned, walking uphill towards the flint arches through the meadow. Our times of rest were supported by Sarah with picnic stops of fruit always in carefully and beautifully chosen places – leafy churchyards and beside the Nissan hats in Thetford Forest where the NAAFI and ATS drank tea and beer and played cards in the War. When spoken words could not express our prayers, we had guitars and songs at Fakenham – blues, French love songs and the Fields of Athenry. I remember that closer towards Walsingham – the tangible pull of it as we got closer geographically. The extreme heat made it more of a pilgrimage, a barefoot challenge on the Holy Mile. Why do it? The shared goal, the time to pray, spending whole days in the open on foot, walking north to the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption at Walsingham, and the space and time for conversation and connection, God in the beauty of the countryside.
Memories from Pilgrim Sarah: On this special Radio Maria pilgrimage, a small group of intrepid pilgrims set off on foot from Bury St Edmunds to make the 80-mile pilgrimage to Walsingham in the traditional way, on foot and supported by the kindness of parishioners and others who helped the pilgrims along the way, arriving in Walsingham in time for the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven (my favourite feast!) Whereas previous pilgrimages had been walked under a deluge of rain, this pilgrimage was completed through a heatwave – a different sort of challenge. The element of challenge seems to belong to the experience of pilgrimage; and this was certainly appropriately challenging! The other element of pilgrimage is joy; and there was plenty of joy along the way. There was prayer, singing and laughing in abundance. We were so fortunate to have a priest making the pilgrimage with us, Fr Peter Wygnanski, who entertained us with his musical skills, and celebrated a moving Mass by the ruins of Castle Acre priory. We were also warmly welcomed by priests and parishioners in the Catholic parishes of Bury St Edmund’s, Brandon and Swaffham. In Brandon and Swaffham, kind parishioners had also prepared a feast to be enjoyed by the group at the end of the day. This kindness and generosity was another hallmark of the pilgrimage. We also encountered it when the minibus ran into a small problem and was fixed quickly and for free by the wonderful mechanics of STS in Swaffham. And to crown the whole experience, on our final day in Walsingham, a wonderful Spanish priest joined us and blessed us by a special celebration of Holy Mass with us in the Slipper Chapel. Not being a pilgrim who would manage the brisk 80 mile walk, I instead drove the support vehicle. There’s a role for everyone on a pilgrimage, just like in Radio Maria, in the Church, and of course in heaven! So don’t be put off from joining a pilgrimage – if you would like to join, then join! In Walsingham, Our Lady told Blessed Richeldis that she wants everyone to share in her joy at the Annunciation. That invitation is for all of us – Our Heavenly Mother is waiting to share her joy with us! We had such an opportunity on the Radio Maria pilgrimage – if an opportunity comes your way, Our Lady is inviting you – maybe we’ll see you there!