Apostolates · Jesuit life

Northern Cross walk

I apologise if anyone came to read our blog last week and did not find anything new. We were away on our Holy Week experiments which, although short are usually intense which means little time to write. This year some of us had slightly longer experiments and also didn’t have easy Internet access. Two novices went on the Loyola Hall cross walk and then to the Holy Week Retreat. Three of us did the Northern Cross walk (http://www.northerncross.co.uk/) that I’ll say more about from my perspective below. The other three went to the Holy Week retreat at Stonyhurst.

On the Friday before Palm Sunday, Janis and I set out by train for Scotland. The weather continued to be fair, although slightly cloudier than most of the previous week – we hoped it would hold. The scenery is lovely, but the journey long; we arrived in Lanark in the evening. We met up with other Northern Cross walkers at a nearby church hall. As more people arrived and conversations started it became clear that most of our group were related or knew each other from long association with the pilgrimage (including a founder pilgrim from 1976). This wasn’t the case on other legs, but I rather liked it – it had the feel of being in a family gathering and we were made to feel welcome. Also quite unusual, people came and left the group almost every day of the week long walk.

For me there were physical challenges. Just walking fifteen to twenty miles a day was tough, especially for the first few days. Fortunately,  didn’t get bad blisters, and then only on the last two days. The weather did not hold for the week, most spectacularly on Tuesday when a blizzard passed through and I opted to go in the support car for a section. However, the bigger challenges in many ways were dealing with people and their different personalities and experiences and expectations. And then just being in close proximity with people all day every day. This included sharing floor space in the church and village halls we stayed in at night (thankfully, ours were all well heated). However, the closeness also meant that one got to know people quickly. In the few days since returning home I have found myself thinking, “X would be interested in this” or “I must tell Y about that” and then realising that I won’t see them. I think there were a lot of extraverts in the group – perhaps you need to be to return frequently. I wonder also if they are people who tend to be sensitive to place and for whom actions are very meaningful. For example, a couple of people said that doing the cross walk helps to nourish their faith throughout the year; whereas I found it quite difficult to remember that it was Holy Week. Perhaps that shows how integrated their faith is?

The scenery we walked through was lovely and the generosity of people in the towns we stopped in and of the family who gave us tea during the blizzard were touching. But I felt my best experiences and perhaps my reason for being sent there as a Jesuit were the talks with pilgrims on the road. We are all on a journey through life and need to make choices along the way and we grow and change over time and look for meaning on the journey. It seemed to me that several of our pilgrims were searching more particularly. In some cases this was from a position of religious agnosticism, others as practicing Catholics, others who were brought up Catholic and are trying to make their faith their own or find what place it has in their lives. To some extent I wonder if this question is an indication of the fragmentation that people feel – that the faith they encounter at church seems to be a distinct element of life, rather than a way of living? Our very presence as Jesuits served to bring out some of these questions and allow them to be talked about. I benefitted from the talks I had and I hope those I spoke to also benefitted. It was a privilege to travel with people and get to know them a bit. Thank you, Lanark Leg and Northern Cross 2012 for that opportunity.

Crossing the sands on the final approach to Lindisfarne
Crossing the sands on the final approach to Lindisfarne

You can read the story where I got the photo at: http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=the%20herald%20northern%20cross%20pilgrimage%202012&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDEQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pressdisplay.com%2Fpressdisplay%2Fviewer.aspx%3Fissue%3D11302012040700000000001001%26page%3D1%26article%3D36d3ce5c-38ef-415b-ad18-f6fcd8a5d23d%26key%3DaxkYksU%2BXLkEgJoA8OtIKg%3D%3D%26feed%3Drss&ei=Ej-ET_LTN8em0QXR88jSBw&usg=AFQjCNFpa_SYC4UnRwOZp3wt5fwYcsRuBA

Geoff

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