By Cesare Bontadini
England, 1938! Italy, 1919! A glorious parallel.
When I visited Walsingham at the Great Pilgrimage of Youth last week-end, I thought of my own youth and my participation in the restoration of the devotion to Our Lady of Fontanellato, near Parma. Here, the ancient statue of the. Holy Virgin had fallen into neglect until, led by Cardinal Ferrari, we young Italians defied the Atheists and Communists, then rampant in Italy, and marched to implore Our Lady's help.
So, last week, Cardinal Hinsley rallied the youth of Catholic England to the historic Slipper Chapel and in a series of beautiful ceremonies, almost ten thousand souls were fortified and uplifted before my happy eyes.
For the first time as Cardinal, this great Yorkshireman was seen at the Sanctuary of St. Mary, and for the first time Masses were celebrated in a large field near this holy spot.
At the Slipper Chapel, Cardinal Hinsley was greeted by a reverent crowd, kneeling in the wooded lane. He stepped from a grey car from Stiffkey Manor and was given the ceremonial key to the Sanctuary which he sprinkled with holy water, to pray alone.
Massed in all directions, outside were the youthful pilgrims—fully 80 per cent. children from all parts of the British Isles. They had come by train, 'bus, motor and wagon, mostly in fresh, smart uniforms.
Resemblance In a fragrant meadow we gathered to hear Bishop Myers lead us through the ritual in a voice spirited, vibrant and clear. Throughout the Mass (and I was very close to the Altar), I thought how much His Lordship's expression resembled that of the Holy Father wham I remember well, as Archbishop of Milan. In contrast to the splendour of the prelates' robes and the processional crosses and sacred vessels was the stark simplicity of the rude, wooden Altar under a plain canvas canopy. My mind leaped from this modern scene to the origins of the Faith, which began in the Manger and was immortalised in that Upper Room, where was the Last Supper.
I give thanks to the British for their great conception.
The same impression was felt during the processions of the Blessed Sacrament, when the Apostolic Blessing was read by Cardinal Hinsley, and at night, when the Credo was intoned by the myriad of the Faithful, as torches flickered and rain Ia. Again a comforting symbolism!
" Never in These Isles . . ."
During four previous visits to England, I have witnessed fine parties in London, be-costumed and spectacular, but never in these isles have I seen such joyous faces, such serene eyes, such sincere smiles as at the Pilgrimage of Youth at Walsingham.
The cardinal virtues were present as surely as the Cardinal himself, and the kindness shown to me, an Italian, warmed my grateful heart.
Nor have I ever seen so many children in England so colourfully dressed and their behaviour so correct and disciplined that I congratulate their parents and teachers. England excels in organisation, and the
CESARE BONT A DIN', WHO describes Walsingham's " Triumph of Youth," is a barrister of Milan, a graduate of the University of Padua, and an occasional contributor to the National Press on the subject of English life. He came on his present visit to England with the express intention of joining the great 1938 pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham.
triumph of assembling, feeding, housing, regimenting and transporting the vast crowd at Walsingham is proof of this national talent.
Incidental to my visit to Walsingham, I studied the position of the Anglican majority and the Catholic minority. I did not visit the Protestant Shrine, being too engrossed by my own devotions, but I listened to reports of the efforts by Anglicans to venerate the Mother of God in Walsingham.
I talked with one Nonconformist and many members of the Church of England, who differed so much that my impressions were confused. But, they all agreed that the Catholic influence was good and deep, and that they were unable to unite, with their Bishop and their Vicar at variance. The Protestants were kind and really pathetic in their bewilderment.
—And He Was a Protestant
Henceforth, when I pray, the conversion of England shall be among my chief
appeals to God. Every time I come to England, I feel that this realisation is nearer and that such a demonstration of faith as 1 saw in the fields of lovely Norfolk is of untold value. For example, the stationmaster of Walsingham provided milk tins of spring water and a dozen clean white cups for the pilgrims, and he was a Protestant.
The police of the district excluded all other activities for the benefit of the Catholics, and one of them told me of his delight in seeing such a galaxy of happy youth.
Hovering over these scenes, dominated by children, were many Catholic ladies who added, in their gentle way, to the cornfort and pleasure of us all. I saw ladies from India and Singapore, hostesses from London, an ardent hospital matron, and one particular lady, who lives in Walsingham solely to assist pilgrims, and speaks four languages. These patent forces are certain to supplement the good work of the Catholic clergy.
And patient, calm Fr. Bernard James, who organised so much of the pilgrimage, will be an example to me long after I shall have returned to Italy.
" Neither in Italy nor France . . ."
To sum up the very wonderful pageant of the Faith in Walsingham, performed in honour of the apparition of Our Lady in England more than nine centuries ago, I aver that I have never seen in Italy or France such intensity of prayer. One scene which I can never forget was when the Blessed Sacrament was carried through the lane by the Cardinal, while the people knelt on the green grass, giving colour and life to England itself. The fresh young voices were chanting Tantuni ergo Sacramentum, and the sun shone through the clouds on thousands of faces inspired by a devotion and the blissful certainty of a more glorious tomorrow.
" Significant to Me "
Also significant to me, was the fullthroated singing of the pilgrims' Domine salvam lac regent nostrum, and their ,4nzen to the prayer:
we beseech Thee, almighty God. that Thy servant George our King, who in Thy merciful providence has been called to rule over this liingcloru, may also receive from Thee an increase of all virtues. Time becomingly adorned, may he shun all evil doing and by the grace attain, together with the Queen, his consort, and their royal offspring, to Thee. who art the way. the truth and the life. Through Christ our Lord.
To Be Deplored
But, used to the riches of my national churches, I do deplore that Our Lady of Walsingham is still glorified chiefly by a plaster statue, austere in its poverty and eloquent of her sorrows, during the past 400 years in England.
This lesson of the beauty of suffering is not lost on me, but I am worldly enough to hope and pray that when 1 return to these dear islands the Blessed Virgin will be enshrined in a sanctuary worthy of her majesty and of the English Catholics' gratitude that she has interceded for them always with her Divine Son.