UK Walsingham Pilgrimage
The British Order of Malta’s national pilgrimage in the UK takes place on a weekend in September, and aims to take around one hundred and fifty pilgrims to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, of whom between thirty and forty are guests.
In the UK, there are basically four “branches” of the Order. The Order of Malta Volunteers (the “OMV”) are young volunteers who focus their work on the sick, whereas the Companions of the Order are volunteers from all ages who primarily serve the poor. The British Association (“BASMOM”) and the Grand Priory of England are the two entities of Members of the Order.
This is the only time that the Order as a whole goes on pilgrimage within the U.K.: as many of our young volunteers cannot go to Lourdes in May (there is a separate pilgrimage in July), this is the Brits’ main shared activity. Around half the pilgrims (volunteers and guests) come from the OMV and the Companions, and around half from BASMOM and the Grand Priory. The Organising Committee is made up of a combination of people from all four groups.
The weekend away is always a favourite event of the year for several reasons. We are famous for various culinary highlights: fish ‘n’ chips, full English breakfast, afternoon tea, Saturday night barbecue and Sunday lunch. Punctuating the numerous opportunities to gorge ourselves is spiritual guidance: a Recollection, Holy Hour, Mass, the Sacrament of Penance, Lauds, Vespers, Stations of the Cross; a happy combination!
Probably the main way to describe the pilgrimage is “relaxed”. There is plenty of free time, and many an opportunity to mix with volunteers and guests from different Order backgrounds: one can be serving tea next to an occasional soup kitchen volunteer, or someone on the Sovereign Council. It is a hugely valuable opportunity for volunteers to learn about the Order, and for Members of the Order to show their vocation, in the Order’s charisms of serving the poor and the sick and bearing witness to the Faith.
The pilgrimage works well firstly because of its timing. As it runs from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, it is easy to set aside time for it, even if busy work schedules of young professionals do not allow for much holiday. Secondly, there is something for everyone in each aspect of a pilgrimage. Spiritual opportunities range from Lauds in Latin to priests ready to have a chat over a drink; volunteers can share rooms with guests with greater needs, or make cups of tea; one can enjoy afternoon tea in the beautiful Priory Grounds, or chat late into the night in a pub lock-in.
It is a fantastic chance for non-members to look beyond the potentially mystifying elements of the Order, and to see that the Order’s Church Dress is less “Dan Brown” than the sign of a commitment to the service of those less fortunate, and to the Catholic Faith.