Trips to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this didn't stop pilgrims from across the North East of England from coming together for a unique virtual pilgrimage. Since the Sixth Century, pilgrims have made their way - by boat, train, and land - to Lindisfarne. There, they complete the 'Pilgrims Way' walk to Holy Island - the site of the famous monastery of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert, and the cradle of Christianity in the North of England.
For the first time in nearly 1,500 years, this pilgrimage tradition was threatened due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, devoted Catholics were not going to let lockdown halt their spiritual journey.
With the help of the Catholic overseas development charity, CAFOD, people and parishes across the North East organised a virtual pilgrimage for the 1-11 July.
Bishop Robert Byrne, the Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, said: "This opportunity we have in our pilgrimage - perhaps a very different type of pilgrimage this year, but very real nonetheless - is an opportunity for us to journey on our way to the Lord and be closer to him.
"A pilgrimage is a time when we remember our journey through life. And we are encouraged by our pilgrimage to try and travel light, to bring our needs to the Lord, and to remind ourselves of the real values of life - of the values that bring us closer to God."
As part of the pilgrimage, 11 pilgrims who have made the journey multiple times will share their favourite memories, photos, and reflections.
To finish the event, on Saturday 11 July, Fr Chris Hughes, who would usually say Mass from the island, will be livestreaming a service from his parish church instead.
Anne Marie Hanlon, who has visited the Holy Island many times, explained why she is looking forward to this unique pilgrimage. She said: "Holy Island is a special place where we are able to walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. It was always a delight to see the impact the beautiful island had on those who came on the pilgrimage.
"I will always be inspired by the volunteers who make the pilgrimages happen, because their efforts have enabled hundreds of people to take time out to reflect on the next step of their journey."
This pilgrimage is part of CAFOD's Summer of Hope. The campaign aims to inspire the nation to remain hopeful this summer through recreating cancelled events, virtually - while also supporting communities in developing countries through fundraising.
Tim Madeley, CAFOD's local representative who helped organise the virtual pilgrimage, explained his inspiration. He said: "The idea of a virtual pilgrimage originally came from a need to replace something that was missing. This pilgrimage is part of people's yearly calendar and is a very important time for people to come together and reflect.
"From there, the idea really took off and lots of different parishes wanted to get involved. It has now grown to a large online event, with the blessing of the Bishop, which is truly amazing."
Join the pilgrimage here: https://cafodhexhamnewcastle.wordpress.com/
Find out more about CAFOD's work at www.cafod.org.uk/coronavirus
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