As Holy Week approaches - many pilgrims are beginning their final preparations before the annual Easter journey on Student Cross to the shrine to Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk in the south east of the country.
On their way, they will provide many parishioners and people who see them as a reminder of the true meaning behind the Christian festival.
Mark Jordan, national director of Student Cross for 2014, said: "For most people, Easter is a break from school, a double bank holiday, Easter bunnies or egg hunts. For both pilgrims themselves and the people we meet it is a reminder that Jesus' sacrifice and His message of love is more important than ever.
From 11 April to 20 April, around 275 pilgrims of all ages and diverse backgrounds will experience a week of fun, friendship and freedom, with the occasional blister thrown in for good measure. Six of the 11 groups - or 'legs' will walk up to 130 miles, staying overnight in church and village halls, while two legs walk a shorter week for those unable to make this larger commitment.
In addition, there are three family legs which include two groups for younger children and a group for teenagers. Each leg carries a large, wooden cross and the arrival of these 11 crosses at the National Shrine to Our Lady in Walsingham, on the afternoon of Good Friday, will mark the beginning of the pilgrimage's unique celebration of Easter.
Mark Jordan added: "Pilgrimage is a fantastic way to put our modern lives into perspective, it gives us the opportunity to take a step back from the hectic pace of life and reflect on those things that really matter to us. With the basic requirements of food and shelter met, we are freed from the everyday pressures of work or study, and able to relax into friendships old and new, while enjoying the beauty of the countryside that we are privileged to walk through while reassessing our relationship with God.
"One of the most touching things about the journey is meeting those that help us on our way. Their generosity - both practical and spiritual - is what makes our walk possible, and being welcomed by familiar faces who value our presence as a key part of their Easter preparations is a genuinely humbling experience.
"However many times a pilgrim joins us, they will find some fresh meaning in their journey some new experience. Although we are only together for a short period of time each year, the experience reaches far beyond that and for many people is genuinely life changing. Although we only carry the cross for a week, we carry the experience in our hearts throughout the year."
Student Cross is the longest running annual pilgrimage in Britain, beginning in 1948 and is walked by students, graduates and families.
Walsingham has been a destination of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages and, until the Reformation, was one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in the world.
This year we will be made up of 11 groups or 'legs' who walk to Walsingham to meet and celebrate the Easter weekend. Each leg carries a large wooden cross as a visible witness to their Christian faith.
Six of these groups, or 'legs', walk an average of 120 miles over Holy Week. A seventh group starts on the Wednesday, and a leg for those unable to manage longer distances just walks on Good Friday. Additionally there are three legs for families, which meet for a week of activities and short walks in Norfolk, the newest leg is one aimed at teenagers and their parents who will be walking from Monday, covering shorter distances.
Christians of all denominations walk Student Cross, as well as people who would not call themselves Christian but who are also searching for spiritual meaning in their lives. Most groups have a majority of Roman Catholic walkers. Despite the name, Student Cross attracts people from all walks of life. Many of them have walked Student Cross before but return again and again.
Bursaries are available to help needy (unwaged & low waged) pilgrims walk with Student Cross. These are provided by our registered charity, the Student Cross Association.
There are still places available for the pilgrimage. Visit www.studentcross.org.uk for more information
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