Fr Peter Allen believes the shrine at Walsingham has a unique role to play as we increase our ties with Europe
"WHO are you and where are you going?" Pope Paul VI asked the Jesuits, as he called on them to meet the challenges of Vatican II without losing the strength and clarity of their original inspiration.
It is a question each of us has wrestled with from time to time as our life has faltered in its progress. It is certainly a question the nation puts to itself, or has put to it, day by day on countless television programmes of political analysis and in a thousand newspaper articles.
The question — who are we and where are we going as a country? — is particularly crucial at the present time as we move into a more closely knit European community. For England it has been in many ways a pilgrimage from Europe back to Europe with an Empire in between.
That first Europe was strongly Christian. Europe today is not. Then the roads were thronged with pilgrims in the summer, now the quest is for the beaches and the sun. Nonetheless, the Church has an important role to play in the rebuilding of a united Europe, East and West from the Atlantic to the Urals as the Pope is fond of saying. But it must never again be a Europe without a soul. We have seen enough of that desolation.
In medieval Europe the roads to the shrines formed a network along which people from all the different regions of Europe travelled and met and exchanged ideas. It was along these roads and at these shrines that the common mind of Europe was built. They came in sickness and need and received comfort. They came in quest of their spiritual identity and discovered their common unity.
Pilgrimage makes for unity because it brings people together from different backgrounds but with a common goal and common ideals. It is more often in our meeting and conversation with others that we discover ourselves. And so often too that we then discover where we are going, that we are on a common journey.
In England Walsingham played a unique role in this quest. For England according to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the reign of Richard II, was known in common parlance as the Dowry of Mary.
The sense of this identity brought virtually every king and queen of England on pilgrimage to Walsingham from Henry I down to Henry VII and the Reformation an upheaval which, we should remember, divided not only the Church and England but Europe itself.
To go on pilgrimage to Walsingham is to return to the roots of Christian England's identity and to what it shared with the rest of Europe . . . a unity of faith.
When the Guild of Ransom restored the pilgrimage in 1897 it was this vision which drove them on: what they called the conversion of England and what we call re-evangelisation. In 1934 the tiny but beautiful Slipper Chapel was made the national shrine by the bishops of England and Wales led by Cardinal Bourne of Westminster.
Apart from the years of the second World War, the national pilgrimage has taken place there each year since. It is now called The Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage.
Those who make this pilgrimage are put in touch with their ancient Christian identity and directed on a journey to the heart of their faith God made man, who lives in our midst and leads us into eternal life. For Walsingham was established to be a perpetual memorial of the great joy of Mary's salutation, the joy of hearing the Good News and bringing it to birth in the world.
In a leading article The Times described the 1934 national pilgrimage as follows: "To such shrines as that of Walsingham people brought the intensest of their grief and their gladness, the bitterest of their repentance and the purest of their endeavour. Such ground cannot but be holy; and it is good to think that the holiness of the holy land of Walsingham is once more recognised and honoured."
This year after mass the procession will go for the first time to the site of the ancient shrine where the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham will be crowned and the Cardinal will lead the pilgrims in prayers for England.