by Canon Stuart Wilson
There has been a long traditon in our diocese of seminarians going on the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. The 2017 pilgrimage proved to be an extra special one. This was due to many things but above all else it was the wonderful atmosphere that filled our pilgrimage. There was such a good sense that ‘we were in this together’ and to echo Mary’s words ‘The Lord has done great things for me’.
This year’s seminarians wanted to help with the pilgrimage as much as possible but they also wanted to put over the message that God is always calling us to service in the Church and, for some, that call is to the sacred priesthood. To do this they re-focused their activites. Greatly helpled by both the diocesan Youth Ministry and the Redcaps’ leaders, they did their daily work as support chaplains to the young people. (David Knight did equally good work with St Joseph’s pilgrims.) Each day the seminarians spent time with a small group of young adults, giving short talks, answering questions, eating supper together, meeting up with them for refreshments. It was really good to see how so many friendships developed.
We also established at our hotel on the outside porch a daily meeting place that we called our Vocations Station. Here we sat and chatted with anyone and everyone. It was good to share with others the calling to priesthood.
Perhaps the highlight of our week with the pilgrims was the opportunity we were given to talk about the call to priesthood to the whole pilgrimage as it assembled for Mass at the Cathedral of the Trees. Dan Daley, a first year student at Allen Hall gave a wonderful personal witness to us all about how God has called him and confirms that calling as he continues his training. He received a warm and well-derserved round of applause from all the pilgrims and not least from members of his old Sixth Form College (St Dominic in Harrow) and his home parish (St George’s Sudbury).
Don’t just take my word for what a great this pilgrimage this has been. Let me give you a few comments from some of the seminarians themselves.
Tim Mangatal: This was my eleventh time to Lourdes but it never ceases to amaze me how Lourdes presents us with a glimpse into the love that God has for his people.Much of our promotion did not happen in a formal setting but rather anywhere and at any time, many people would approach us curious as to why we feel called to serve the Church in this way.
Dan Daley: The highlight for me was during the torchlight procession. As I had the honour of carrying Our Lady of Willesden I was near the front of the procession and when we reached the Basilica I had a clear view of the whole procession. When they all raised their candles during the singing of the ‘Ave’ I glimpsed the reality of Christ’s family. So many unique individuals united in the name of Christ. It was a humbling moment and it will keep me grounded.
Deacon Mark Dunglinson: It was wonderful to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes just a few weeks after my diaconate ordination, enabling me to exercise my new ministry in this holy place. It was a dream come true for me, to be a deacon at the altar in the Grotto, when we celebrated Mass there. I was also a Redcap chaplain during the pilgrimage, and my job was to bring a spiritual element, and God’s blessing, to the work of the Redcaps. The miracle of Lourdes for me is to come to this ‘magical’ place to gain the strength to carry on our normal lives for another year.
Deacon Antonio Pineda: This was my fifth pilgrimage and it was very special because I was there as a deacon. In some ways, being a deacon at the pilgrimage was quite daunting; but it was also a wonderful experience because it felt as though I was being introduced to the diocese.
I study at the English College in Rome so it was fantastic to be with the diocese in a real and meaningful way. I also appreciated being with some of the seminarians from Allen Hall. By the end of the pilgrimage, I truly felt a member of the diocese. I feel confident that I made new friends that I will be able to call on in the future when, God willing, I will be a priest . The pilgrimage has been full of blessings for me.
David Knight: I spent the week working with Caritas St Joseph’s. Gail Williams and her team show great love to the people and families whom they help and support The St Joseph pilgrims bring with them a unique and often active approach to faith. I give thanks to God for them. Another moment of reflection for me was during the meditation on the Way of the Cross. It spoke to me as a priest in training. ‘Christ’s sacrificial Love restores us. If we let him, he makes each one of us whole again; bringing a real true meaning to our lives.’ And a last thought; the service our remarkable Redcaps give each year is inspirational. Those whom I met with the St Joseph’s group were, without question, outstanding.