This Holy week I joined 4 other Jesuits and about 15 people on the Oxford Leg of Student Cross. Our sole aim to walk the 160 odd miles from Oxford to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham whilst carrying an 8 foot cross. Student Cross started in 1948 and now comprises 11 groups or legs of students from over the UK that walk different paths heading to Walsingham in time for Good Friday. Once in Walsingham we celebrate as a whole some 300 + people the Good Friday Passion, Easter Vigil Mass and Easter Sunday Service at the Anglican Shrine.
I was a little bit apprehensive about the demands of the walk for someone not used to long distances – we packed in about 20 miles a day with several pauses for rest and refreshment. The atmosphere on the road was one of community, people looked out for each other and cared for those with injuries and blisters. There was a prayerful spirit with reflections on the Stations of the Cross made all the more real by feeling for ourselves the weight from carrying the cross. There was also time on the road for encountering each other and social time through sharing and preparing meals together. I was particularly impressed by young people bringing their friends and listening to them explain their faith to their friends who did not always share the same belief.
What struck me was the generosity of strangers, year after year opening their homes, churches and halls to the group and providing food and shelter on our journey. It was so heart warming to be welcomed by the numerous old country churches and their parishioners with a mug of tea and some cake. One night we were invited to stay with families in their homes. I stayed with an elderly couple who were very kind in preparing and sharing a freshly cooked meal and allowing a hot bath that was so welcome to my aching legs. Gratitude kept repeating in my head and in my words. Grateful for what people had provided and grateful that God had looked after things.
I found myself thinking what would I do if a bunch of students came knocking on my door with an 8 foot cross seeking refuge? People’s generosity proved an antidote to the cynicism that seems to be present in society. Indeed welcoming us made parishioners’ Holy Week that extra bit special. Several parishioners commented on the witness given by simply carrying the cross on the road through cities, towns and countryside. Once completed there was for me a little bit of an anticlimax a sense of missing a purpose after a week of walking. I used this empty feeling to enter into the defeat I imagine that the disciples must have felt on Holy Saturday. This was all short lived as come the great celebration of the Easter Vigil, with a torchlight procession through the streets to the sound of rejoicing, I felt that I was able to deeply feel the Good News that the Lord indeed has Risen. Alleluia!
To find out more about Walsingham as the UK site for pilgrimage and devotion to Our Lady please click on this link.
If you would like to know more about the Student Cross Pilgrimage or are interested in walking next year please click here.
Happy Easter from everyone at the Novitiate.