In the footsteps of the recusants

 It was a step back in time for Father John Cullen, parish priest of St Edmund of Canterbury, Waterloo, near Liverpool and his flock when they made a Jubilee Year pilgrimage in the footsteps of the recusants. Father Cullen and 70 plus parishioners and friends made a seven-mile pilgrimage to the site of the Harkirk, at Little Crosby, Merseyside, a Saxon Church, and its surroundings which were used as burial ground during Penal Times. "We wanted to make this part of our Jubilee Year celebrations with a pilgrimage that looked forward in hope but also reflected on and gave thanks for the sacrifices of those who suffered for their faith," Father Cullen told ICN. He added, "As the day went on there was a real spirit of pilgrimage - one parishioner sent me a lovely card saying the day was like the pilgrimage of our life." Starting with the blessing of a pilgrim cross at St Edmunds, neighbouring St Helens parish was their first stop. At Little Crosby they were met by Bob Wright, the parishioner of St Mary's who runs The Little Crosby Museum. After Benediction at St Marys, priest and pilgrims were given privileged access to the private estate of the Blundell Family, where the Harkirk is situated, with the intrepid group making their way on foot across demanding terrain including one member on crutches and an 88-year-old lady in a wheelchair pushed by her devoted daughter, and later helped over several high obstacles by some gallant males. St Marys, Little Crosby, is not owned by the Archdiocese of Liverpool but by the Blundell family which has occupied the land since the 15th Century and kept the faith despite the 'dungeon, fire and sword' of the Reformation. In days when it was illegal to bury Catholics in public graveyards, the Catholics were buried in the grounds around the Harkirk, often at night. Some mourners had even crossed the River Mersey from the Wirral to bring their dead. The original Saxon Church was superseded by a 16th century chapel, which has the names of all buried in the grounds inscribed on the wall. A total of 130 people are buried at the Harkirk, including 27 Jesuit priests. The pilgrimage concluded with a service on the site of the Harkirk with the pilgrims praying, "From this day forth let all my journeys echo with the meaning of this journey, wherever I go." Part of the Blundell estate now houses the Crosby Hall Educational Trust (CHET) which is a rural studies and activities centre for school children which devotes special attention to youngsters from inner city and disadvantaged areas.

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