|Pilgrims leave Canterbury|
As the Chartres Pilgrimage went ahead with vastly reduced numbers (see ND Chretiente), the English chapters had need of an alternate route to keep alive the Pentecost spirit. Thanks to the inspiration of Tim O'Callaghan, we determined to undertake the 50 mile journey from the Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate, Kent, to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Simon Stock at The Friars (aka Aylesford Priory). And so it came to pass that an enthusiastic band of 90 pilgrims of all ages (oldest 80+; youngest -1) set off on the morning of Saturday, 22 May, fortified by High Mass at the Shrine celebrated by Father Christopher Basden who was for many years National Chaplain to the British chapters to Chartres. 3 miles away we reached the Cross of St. Augustine marking the spot where Augustine met King Ethelbert and gave his first sermon on English soil. We passed by Minster Convent which is the oldest continuously inhabited dwelling in England currently occupied by Benedictine Nuns (the remnants of German immigrants who took over the convent shortly before the Second World War). Eventually, we made our way to the centre of Medieval Christianity, Canterbury, where we had time to visit St. Martin's Church, the first Church used by St. Augustine when he began his ministry, before concluding the day with Benediction at St. Thomas of Canterbury Church where we were also privileged to be able to venerate the relic of the martyred saint. In the morning, Pentecost Sunday, a Missa Cantata took place in the Chapter House at Canterbury -- perhaps the first ever Catholic Mass to be said in this building which was built for the monks of the former monastery to conduct their formal business. Our goal on the second day was a Hostel/Campsite at Doddington (near Sittingbourne) where we would spend the night before embarking for our final destination of Aylesford Priory. In addition to setting off late after Mass, we encountered a deal of mud which made the going heavy, so the decision was taken to take a straighter, if less picturesque, route to the campsite. We had an appointment at the local pub for dinner at 6:30 pm and arrived 20 minutes late. The refreshment was welcome and we made our way to the campsite thereafter. Unfortunately, the weather really set in and the scheduled All Night Adoration had to be cancelled as a result. As Father Faustinus had celebrated Mass earlier and put one of the consecrated Hosts in the tabernacle in preparation for the Benediction, Our Lord was present with us overnight and Friar Deo Gratias stayed up all night to keep Him company. Several of the pilgrims paid a visit during the night despite the conditions. The next morning dawned clear and sunny and a wonderful smell of May greeted us as we began the final leg of the journey. This was mainly cross-county through some very beautiful countryside. There is a reason why they call Kent "the Garden of England." At times it was quite breathtaking. There were also a surprising number of horses enroute and a few were very nervous of the flags we were carrying. While we were half an hour late leaving the campsite, we made good time to our first stop at the pleasant village of Bredgar, arriving just in time for the local post office/shop/cafe to open to rather more clients than I think they were expecting! We were aiming to stop for lunch at the Black Lion at Thurnham, where we had taken the precaution of advising them that a large group would be passing through. However, our advance guard of vehicles soon advised us that the pub was not prepared for such a group and, initially, they refused to welcome us at all! This set off a semi-comical scouring of the countryside for pubs which would accept our business while we tried to make our way thither. In the meantime, our Juventutem-style chapter, St. Alban, managed to lose the end of the other chapter and the phones were ringing to say that they were in the middle of the field! Poor Tim was trying to plot our route through open countryside while his phone was ringing with various messages and this resulted in his phone running through its charge. As we were following GPS on the phone, this could have been a disaster! Fortunately, he had had the foresight to bring a reserve charge, so we decided to proceed to Thurnham ignoring the subsequent phone calls and, when we arrived, we found that the pub had, perhaps on seeing business directed to the competition, changed its mind and would accept the group scattered around various parts of its outdoor premises. St. Alban also managed to find their way there, so all was well! On to Aylesford! The weather forecast for the afternoon had been pretty poor, and we were treated to a number of showers and increasingly grey skies as we travelled the remaining 6 miles to Aylesford. As the Mass at Aylesford was to be outdoors, we prayed very hard for a break in the clouds for the duration of the Mass. Mass was scheduled for 4:30 pm and we were expected to arrive an hour earlier at 3:30pm. However, we were behind schedule, so there was increasing concern that we would not be there by 4:30 pm and we also received a phone call from the Prior to say that the gates were locked at 5 pm! We ploughed on; a little quicker than hitherto. In the event, we arrived on the dot of 4:30 pm. High Mass began at 5 pm celebrated by Canon Martin Edwards with Fr Basden as Deacon and Fr. Tim Finigan as Subdeacon. Fr. Finigan also preached. The weather held until the singing of the Gospel when there was the most extraordinary hail shower! Poor Fr. Basden hurried through the singing of the Gospel with the hail pelting down (as the Gospel was sung in the open air) and the procession scurried under cover at its conclusion. By the time Fr. Finigan began his sermon, however, the hail had stopped -- the only evidence being a very wet ground! Thereafter, it was a very fair May evening. Our prayers had been answered -- no rain! It was a wonderful Pilgrimage, full of incident, and a fitting honour to Our Lady, to the Sacred Heart, and to the Holy Ghost as the Pilgrimage to Chartres took a detour through the Kent countryside!