Members of the parish community come together as pilgrims to renew their faith life at both National and International centres of devotion, such as Knock, Rome, Avila, Santiago Compostela, Lourdes and the Holy Land.
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs.
Our pilgrimages here in St Anselm’s Parish continue the journey of faith made by the priests and laity of this Parish since its founding in 1909. Father Donovan, the first parish priest led a journey to Rome and applied to the then Pope Benedict XV for a Papal Blessing and the priests and laity have continued that journey since. We as a parish often make these journeys joined by members of St Saviours Parish, Lewisham, along with Father Chris Connor.
The trips to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Knock was so beautifully appointed and organised that we just could bask in glory of the Novena and the celebration of Our Lady’s life as witnessed by the Handmaids in the annual evening recital of the Rosary. Trips to the Irish countryside of Ben Bullen and Kylemore Gardens with its magnificent gardens and history of Old Pretender artifacts brought from France by the Sisters was just spellbinding.
As we drove the rocky journey to Lourdes on a thunderous night in the Pyrenees mountains in 2010, one could be forgiven for being apprehensive, but the sanctity of the shrine and the opportunity for both personal and community prayer was memorable. The shrine and the tour of St Bernadette’s simple home made us realise that power of faith and the simple message of Mary our Mother. “I am the Immaculate Conception”, echoed in the songs and the flickering candles of thousands of pilgrims during the nightly procession which made one silent in wonder. “Ave Ave” rang out across the shrine and we journeyed with them all. The fun in the hotel, the greeting of other pilgrims was so warm and encouraging that you were anxious not to have the journey come to an end. We celebrated Mass in the main Basilica with just our group and the simple message of hope came forth. This is a place of healing and reconciliation and we were, for a week, part of that special message.
Eternal and much loved places have been visited over the years, centres of our faith and devotion – Rome in 2008, Knock in 2010, Lourdes 2011 and the Holy Land 2013. These special places signify the sites to which we, as a Church, attach great significance because they are the place of birth or death of founders or saints, the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening. In the case of the Holy Land, it allowed us to walk in the sacred places we read in our spiritual testimony.
The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We were fortunate during October 2013 to make the journey to the Holy Land under the direction of Father Will and Father Chris and personally connect with the places and see physical manifestations of our faith and have opportunities to confirm our beliefs.
Many of the main sites in the New and Old Testament were visited and time spent in Jerusalem as well as in Galilee. From Jericho to Masada with its heroic story of resistance to the might of Rome, we were lucky to see it all. The boat trip on Galilee and the Mass on the edge of the Lake of Galilee are unforgettable experiences, as was the Baptism in the Jordan. The warmth and the love of the people and the place will stay with those on that journey forever. Noise of traffic, goods for sale all melted away as we found peace, fulfilment and a greater understanding of the stories and the place. The celebration of the Mass in the cave of St Jerome at Bethlehem meant that we will never think of Christmas in the same way.
On Monday 17th October some forty-two pilgrims from St. Anselm’s, Tooting Bec and St. Saviour’s, Lewisham set off on a pilgrimage to Rome. The pilgrims were led by their spiritual directors Fr. Will and Fr. Chris, and coordinated by Martine Mercer and Tom Gately. After our departure from Gatwick the pilgrims arrived in the Eternal City to stay at the Domus Romana Sacerdotalis guest house, situated just off the Via Conzilliazone, an excellent venue only a short walk away from the Cathedra Pietra. We were on an exciting journey of faith and fellowship.
During our pilgrimage we would travel together to see the Christian delights of Rome, with visits to Cathedra Pietra, the Catacombes of St. Calixtus, the Church of St. Mary Major as well as partaking of a guided tour of St. Peters Basilica to see the famous Michelangelo Pieta, the statue of St. Peter and the tomb of St. John Paul II.
There were opportunities for individual reflection and visits to other parts of the Eternal City and Mass was celebrated by Father Will and Father Chris daily. On our first day, we were privileged to be able to celebrate our Mass at the special altar of the Chair of St. Peter. This special place right at the heart of the Basilica was created by Bernini to honour the preserved ancient chair of St. Peter and is annually remembered in a great feast celebration on February 22nd. This was to acknowledge that St. Peter was a great teacher and in this magnificent altar the Holy Spirit looks down on the Doctors of the Church (St. Ambrose, St Anthanasius, St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine) to celebrate the Catholicity of the Church and the consistency of its teaching. What a magnificent opportunity we all had to be in this special place with the strength of the Holy Spirit gazing down on us.
Another great spiritual opportunity was the Papal Audience on Wednesday 19th October where we joined literally thousands of pilgrims, Bishops, priests and sisters from all over the world to see and to hear Pope Francis as he greeted the crowds and imparted his blessing at this special time of the great Jubilee of Mercy with the Holy Door behind him. The cheer that went up when our Parish name was called out was matched by the joy and warmth we felt as we listened to the names of Parishes and groups from around the world. What a wonderful reflection of our faith and our Catholic identity.
As we departed to Fiumicino Airport on the Friday we all knew that we would have many happy memories to share with loved ones at home; dreams and hopes for another opportunity to travel, to pray and be part of such fellowship were already being formulated.
We left with the Motto of Pope Francis in our hearts “miserandoalque eligendo” translated means “to be shown mercy and chosen.” A motto especially dear to Pope Francis to remember that as a young 17 year old on the Feast of St. Matthew in 1953 he felt during confession that his heart had been touched in a very special way by the Mercy of God calling him to religious life and to follow the example of St Ignatius of Loyola. How wonderful to think that the words of St. Bede one of our own great English saints sits right at the centre of the Vatican and are those that inspire and guide our spiritual Father. May they equally inspire us.