I have returned from the holy pilgrimage to Chartres! On Tuesday morning, 21st May, after a beautiful Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the two British chapters in the crypt of Chartres cathedral, our coach set off for home. We arrived back beside Westminster Cathedral around 8pm (the point from where we had departed the previous Friday morning), weary, footsore, tired, but very happy, after our more than 100 km. (64 miles) walking pilgrimage between the two Cathedrals of Notre-Dame de Paris to Notre-Dame de Chartres. It had been yet another indescribably moving and spiritually uplifting experience – as Our Blessed Lord had promised that the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost would be. There is no doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit had poured numerous graces down upon us, the over 10.000 pilgrims (mostly male, and almost all of them young), in a most amazing way.
But it was tough, very tough this year, with a lot of rain in the afternoons, some of it heavy, that made plodding through the muddy fields and woods harder than usual; and the nights, camping out in tents in soggy open fields, colder than ever! Spirits never flagged all the same, and the singing and praying continued during the march with the vitality and ‘joie de vivre’ that would be hard to comprehend under any other circumstances.We had been warned that we might come across a spot of trouble from the pro same-sex ‘marriage’ adherents along the way, but except from some distant jeering and shouting as we were marching out of Paris, I never noticed anything. Perhaps these blusterers were unnerved at the sight of streams of so many joyful Catholics!
At the second campsite, whilst kneeling in the rain amongst hundreds of other pilgrims on the sopping wet grass in front of the Blessed Sacrament on the lovely altar erected at the campsite just as night fell, I was struck with a burning love for these wonderful young people kneeling all around me. Many of them, after a 33 day preparation period, were making their Consecration to Our Blessed Lady, filling me with the strong conviction that our Church will weather any storm coming its way with youngsters such as these to take the ‘baton’ onto the next generations.
This year we were lucky: the organisers gave us a position among the beginning chapters on the third day of the walk, so we actually managed to get inside the cathedral, and even to get a seat!! (This is something that rarely happens.) After the magnificent Mass, and whilst the numerous clergy, followed by the banner holders, filed out of the Cathedral in procession, we raised our voices, thousands of them, singing our hearts out the beautiful hymn to Our Lady of Chartres: “Chez nous, soyez Reine” (“Oh Queen of our country”).
The ‘Chartres pilgrimage’ is a very real metaphor for the Church Militant, the Catholic Church on Earth, marching with our fellow pilgrims through the difficulties and challenges of life, its joys and sorrows, towards our goal, the Church Triumphant.
Once one has ‘experienced Chartres’ (an expression we use among ourselves), and in spite of the very real suffering and many discomforts endured, you feel compelled to come back time and time again. The divine graces that enkindle the hearts of the pilgrims with a passion and love for God, the Blessed Virgin, our Holy Catholic Church and one another, are like a magnet that is difficult to resist. The years I have been unable to make the pilgrimage to Chartres, for whatever reason, I now feel bereft!
I have so many pilgrims to thank for their help and fellowship, it is hard to know where to begin, but after heartfelt thanks to my dear friends who organise the British pilgrimage so fantastically well, and all the other priests and helpers, I would like to add my thanks to A and her young grandson C, who helped me search among the piles of luggage for absolute ages in the pouring rain that second evening for my lost bag containing my sleeping-bag and mat (eventually found!); and to J, who became my ‘Simon of Cyrene’ when he gave me his big strong arm to help me (practically carry me actually) up that final long steep hill to the Cathedral of Chartres, just as the last bit of my strength and energy were draining away. May God Bless you all abundantly for your kindness.
On the French website, “Notre Dame de Chrétienté” http://www.nd-chretiente.com/index-eng.php/ comes this explanation:
“The Association “Notre-Dame de Chrétienté” (“Our Lady of Christendom”) organises every year at Pentecost a pilgrimage from the Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris, to the Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Chartres (France): three days to live and build the Christendom of the third millennium. Covering within three days a distance of approximately 60 miles, the pilgrims walk in “chapters” under the patronage of a saint. The pilgrimage has about 150 chapters each comprising around fifty pilgrims from all over France and even abroad (USA, Great Britain, Australia, Poland, Canada, Spain, etc. …). The chapters are led by laymen who, with the help of chaplains, organise the chapter hymns, meditations, rosary and prayers. The pilgrims live in a spirit of Christ’s presence: friendship and prayer sustaining each pilgrim on his spiritual journey. Chaplains, priests and religious from various communities accompany the pilgrims all along the walk, hearing confessions, and teaching the Catholic Faith. Each day, Mass is celebrated in the most beautiful way, according to the Roman Missal of Pope John XXIII. The liturgy is the traditional Latin one: a magnificent instrument of prayer, stressing the universal character of the Mass. Each year, approximately 8,000 to 10,000 pilgrims, walk to the Marian shrine of Chartres, expressing the condition of Christian life which is to be a long pilgrimage and a long walk to paradise…”
For a well-written and delightful account of this year’s pilgrimage from one of our enthusiastic “Juventutem” members: http://www.offerimustibidomine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/pelerinage-de-chartres-2013.html
For more information and a link to photos: http://www.chartresuk.blogspot.com/