Pilgrims from around the world gathered in France for the annual pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres from 8th to 10th June to herald the Feast of Pentecost, the theme of which was: “The Peace of Christ through the Reign of Christ.” More than 14,000 people walked the 100km over the three days arriving in Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral on the Feast of Pentecost. Chartres Cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady – Notre Dame – the Virgin Mother of God. It became a popular pilgrimage destination because Our Lady’s veil is housed there. This veil is one of the most important relics of Christendom.
This year, a group of 46 Irish people participated in the pilgrimage, led by Katie O’Driscoll, with Canon Lebocq as Chaplain. There was no mistaking the presence of the Irish among these 14,000 pilgrims because the Celtic Cross, the banner of St Patrick and the Irish flag were carried with pride through the streets in Paris, to the fields and woods in the countryside, and finally to the feet of Our Lady in Chartres Cathedral.
Although getting to Chartres is the physical focus, keeping the pilgrims’ interest and motivation is of vital importance on this long and arduous journey. This is a spiritual event, and at the same time, pleasant and accessible to all. Each group leader is concerned to keep their respective group together and moving forward, whilst at the same time providing short rest periods to care for personal needs and maybe some blisters! Along the way the Holy Rosary is sung, texts are read before each decade. Hymns are interspersed with moments of silence to allow for reflection time.
While adults walk the entire distance, children play their own part. Their walk is much shorter, accompanied by nuns and parents, and they have several breaks with some religious instructions and games without forgetting the use of their rosary beads! 800 volunteers also make a more discrete pilgrimage to the human eye… They are in charge of the traffic, erect the tents in the camp, provide water to the walkers, load and unload the thousands of pilgrim bags, while singing and praying the rosary. A noble assignment indeed. Consider a pilgrimage of such magnitude without such a human structure to support it?
Each year more and more young people are attracted to the traditional Latin Mass celebrated during the pilgrimage. They seek respect, sacred silence, solemnity and expression of Catholic dogmas in the liturgy. The reverence toward the Holy Eucharist during the Celebration deeply touches the soul of each pilgrim, especially during the All-night Adoration in the field, despite the fatigue!
One must be on this pilgrimage to witness, very early each morning, over eighty exhausted pilgrim priests lining up, in prayer, ready to offer private Mass in the Extraordinary Form. There is no doubt that Heaven touches the pilgrim soul at each instant of the pilgrimage in so many different ways!
By virtue of the nature of this pilgrimage, participants are empowered to purify their love for God and work on their conversion. Demanding spiritual and physical effort, long distances, short nights, basic food and accommodation make everyone focused on what is really important: the Glory of God and personal conversion. If this was a sporting competition, most of the participants would most certainly fail, but the same effort in a spirit of conversion make a closer relationship with God possible for most!
Throughout this journey, priests walk along with their pilgrims and are available for Confession. This moment where Christ meets the weary, drained penitent presents a highlight for the pilgrim soul: an encounter with Christ in the sacrament of His Mercy. As any pilgrim walks better with a light bag rather than a heavy one, the soul also flies better towards God purified by the grace of the sacrament. Surely this is an extraordinary moment of cleansing and conversation, for the heart desiring to know and love one’s Lord and Saviour. One might cry because of his little (or big!) blisters but most pilgrims spiritually cry over their personal sins, which is the source of many graces. What a joy then, for these priests to hear in confession hundreds of souls who regret their past lives, make a clear accusation of their sins and resolve to amend their lives. The Most Precious Blood of Our Lord comes upon their souls, cleanses them, restores and heals them and fortifies them!
These tears are then joyful ones when the steeple of Chartres Cathedral can be seen. It means that whilst there is still around 30 km to walk….. soon the arrival in Chartres Cathedral will arrive and then the bells ring, the organ plays and all voices join in the famous hymn:
“Chartres sonne, Chartres t’appelles! Gloire, honneur au Christ Roi!”
(Chartres rings, Chartres calls you! Glory, honour to Christ the King!)
The Irish flags will be flying again next year and the theme is already set: “Guardian angels, keep us and protect us”.
Will you answer the call from Our Lady?
Canon Lebocq (061-315-812)