Walking twenty miles along the Thames, praying the Rosary and singing hymns, with a banner of Our Lady of Walsingham. That is how big group of pilgrims marked the launch of the Year of Faith on Sunday, 28 October.
The John Paul Walkers had the idea for the Thames Pilgrimage during the summer, while walking to Walsingham on their annual pilgrimage from Bury St Edmunds. The Walsingham walk, held every year since 2005, has been so popular that they wanted to hold an Autumn event too. They came up with the idea of a pIlgrimage along the Thames, and opened it up to anyone who wanted to take part, warning participants that it would be a tough day – the planned route was over twenty miles, from Westminster Cathedral to the Shrine of Our Lady of Westminster at Hampton Wick.
A large crowd responded to the invitation. Chaplain for the day was Father Simon Heans, of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He concelebrated the 10.30am Sung Mass at Westminster Cathedral, which all the walkers attended. They then gathered on the piazza and set off. The Pilgrimage took them to Chelsea, where they crossed the river to Battersea and from there walked on to Wandsworth, Putney, Barnes and Richmond, and then on to Teddington and thence to Hampton Wick. Along the route they prayed the full 20 decades of the Rosary, sang hymns, and had talks by Sister Hyacinthe of the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph.
“I was just amazed by the wonderful response to this Pilgrimage” said one of the organisers Joanna Bogle “Coming out of the Cathedral after Mass I wondered who might have turned out for the walk – and there was this great crowd, all with backpacks and boots, ready to go. It was a wonderful day, and people were heroic – twenty miles is a long way, and by the end darkness had fallen. But no one complained, and spirit throughout the day was just marvellous.”
At Hampton Wick, the group was welcomed by the Sons of Divine Providence, who run the chapel of Our Lady of Westminster, which is part of a complex of buildings including a home for the elderly and one for people with special needs. In the packed chapel, Fr Simon Heans led the pilgrims in Evening Prayer and gave Benediction, after which all enjoyed a well-merited buffet supper, provided by the Sons of Divine Providence and a team of helpers.
The Walkers were all ages, with a number of family groups. In addition to Fr Heans, the pilgrims had a deacon, Henry Whisenant, from Oscott College, whose family has been involved with the John Paul Walkers for several years.
The annual John Paul Pilgrimage to Walsingham was the brainchild of the Dominican Sisters of St Joseph, based in Hampshire. It now seems likely that the Thames Walk will be added to the annual calendar for the walkers – despite the march of 20 miles, people were asking “What about next year?”