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James Holland, Coordinator of Westminster Interfaith, writes about his experience joining an ecumenical and interfaith walking pilgrimage in Cardiff.

Amidst the backdrop of an increasingly divided world, last week a hopeful act of unity took place in Cardiff. A joint endeavour by the Catholic Bishop's Conference of England & Wales and the Church in Wales, Dr Phil McCarthy led an ecumenical & interfaith walking pilgrimage from Llandaff Cathedral to the Metropolitan Cathedral of St David.

Westminster Interfaith has a long tradition, dating back to 1986, of running an Annual Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace, seeking peace and friendship between religions in Westminster. Last week’s pilgrimage was therefore an opportunity to engage in an ecumenical and interfaith journey, one which will inform the renewal of our own Interfaith Pilgrimage in Westminster next year.  

Beginning at Llandaff, a few miles north of Cardiff, we gathered around the Cross of Wales for a short service led by Bishop Mary Stallard, Bishop of Llandaff, and Archbishop Andrew John, Archbishop of Wales. The Bishops blessed those in attendance, prayed that the rain would hold off and we departed to journey with each other as strangers. 

As we walked, Bishops, lay people and Members of the Senedd alike, we encountered one another, sharing our own experience of pilgrimage and reflecting on the theme from Micah: to act justly, to love mercifully and to walk humbly. 

As Archbishop Mark O’Toole noted, the pilgrimage was 'one of moving from being strangers to being friends on the journey of life and pilgrimage of life'.

The last leg of the walk saw us leave the large, open space of Bute Park and enter the busy streets of Cardiff City Centre. For me, this part of the walk was an outward witness of our inner commitment to seek unity with other Christians and friendship & peace with other religions. A sign that, as Catholics, we are not satisfied with the scandal of disunity, instead, we desire to share life together, to move from strangers to friends and 'to be the sign and instrument of uniting all people to God and to each other' (Meeting God in Friend and Stranger, CBCEW, 2010).

After a service in the Catholic Cathedral, led by Archbishop Mark, the walk concluded with a shared lunch and a presentation from Dr Philip McCarthy, creator of the Hearts in Search of God project. He recalled Pope Francis’ words on being a pilgrim: 'whoever they may be, young or old, rich or poor, sick and troubled or curious tourists, let them find due welcome, because in every person there is a heart in search of God, at times without being fully aware of it'. 

Dr McCarthy encouraged us to look ahead to next year, our Jubilee Year, where we will become 'Pilgrims of Hope'. As we prepare for the Jubilee, we might ask ourselves: how can we be Pilgrims of Hope, journeying with strangers and friends towards a more hopeful and peaceful future?

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