Saturday, 20 October 2012

Two more special places

Still recounting our summer holiday break in Spain and then by car back to the UK via France, there are still two places which need a mention. Both are special to our family. The first, as we had stopped for 3 days in the Loire Valley, is Tours and its tomb of Saint Martin, after whom our youngest child is named. Martin of Tours lived between 316 and 397. The most famous story tells that while Martin was still a soldier in the Roman army and deployed in Gaul (modern day France), he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens he met a  beggar.  He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me."  The dream confirmed Martin in his piety, and he was baptized at the age of 18. He served in the military for another two years until in 336, Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service

He became a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims  on the road to Santiago de Compostela. How could we not stop to pray at the present day basilica, rebuilt following the rediscovery of Martin's tomb in 1860 and consecrated in 1925?
The other place and the last on our summer journey, was Chartres near Paris in France. We had never been here before and yet all of our children have visted this place on numerous occasions. They have come here at the end of the annual Pentecost Pilgrimage from Notre Dame at Paris to Notre Dame at Chartres. It is a gruelling walk spread over 3 days with Mass in the Extraordinary Form each day culminating in a Solemn High Mass in the Cathedral itself. Although older people do take part it is peopled predominantly by the young from all over the world. My husband and I made a conscious decision that we would let our children make this pilgrimage without their parents, so making their faith their own. We are delighted that they have sought to return time after time and we believe it has played a big part in ensuring that they all still practice their faith. However now it was time for us to thank Our Lady of Chartres for guiding and spiritually mothering our children over those years. We were not disappoited! The interior of Chartres Cathedral and especially its wonderful stained glass is a glory to behold. We were blessed with the opportunity to attend Mass there on the Feast of the Assumption. We then had a personal guided tour from a friend of friends and were also able to venerate Our Lady's Veil, worn by her at the Birth of Christ.

Our Lady of Chartres, Pray for us

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Our daughter's very long walk

I am acutely aware that the last time I posted about our daughter's Camino Pilgrimage she was 19kms away! she did arrive and has written this for HFG readers:-

Walking the way...

Its hard to imagine when embarking on a 950 kilometre pilgrimage what it will be like. Reflecting back on 38 days of walking, reflection, prayer and conversation it in some ways feels like it never happened and in other ways it changed me for good.


Each day brought with it it's physical, mental and spiritual challenges. Physically it is the relentless nature of the walking that finally takes it's toll. Each day the distance covered, 25k on average, doesn't seem so much  but over the 5 and a half weeks, feet, knees, backs, hips, arms, everything infact does start to grumble! The terrain and weather add to the unpredictable nature of the Camino with cold nights, hot days, storms, mountain ranges to cross and days on end of long flat roads which seem to never end!


Just simply dealing with the every day of the Way meant waking up at 5am to beat the heat, being able to think at least one meal in advance, packing up and sleeping in a new place each night which I soon realised meant having to offer up many of our usual daily concerns and simply trust to providence that all would be well. For us in our modern and convenient world this is a difficult lesson to learn.


The other pilgrims truly make the Camino what it is and that is why each person will have such a different experience. There is a real sense of community with people sharing the little they have. It was common to cook and eat with other pilgrims sharing tales of what had happened that day. The same faces start to pop up over and over again so friendships are formed and this is what really carried me through. There were days when I could be the person offering encouragement and a listening ear but there were many days when I was greatly in need of this from others.


The opportunity to grow in faith is incredible. I managed to get to Mass most days, confession in English was harder to find but opportunities did present themselves. Walking for hours lost in thought means there is ample time for prayer and self reflection which can be quite confronting to have so much time to think through life and the decisions that have been made along the way. Many people go through a myriad of emotions and are facing their past for the first time. It was not a surprise that all the priests and religious we saw were always surrounded by hoards of pilgrims wanting to talk to them and receive help, guidance and love.


Arriving into Santiago was wonderful, I had a few tears when I got to the square and when I got to the tomb of St James away from the chaos that was the cathedral above, I realised what an incredible priviledge it was to have walked this ancient Camino route that so many have walked before. Our 'hardships' were nothing compared to those early pilgrims who literally risked their lives to get to Santiago and having struggled so much myself I am in awe of what they managed to do.


The camino continues even once it is long finished. The lessons learned do stay with with me and our prayers are being answered. I would encourage anyone to do the camino. There is no one too old, too sick, too unfit. We met many retired people walking, some had walked from Rome, Holland and France. We met people walking with chronic illnesses and many people who were at a major crossroad in their life. If this is an experience you would like to have don't let anything get in your way, the rewards are very great! 

Travelling home through France

It could be said we stumbled upon Rocamadour in that while exploring the route home online, I chanced to find this place which seemed worthy of a visit. We were unaware that we would get Mass there and more than that discover a thriving Catholic community in the heart of France. This might sound strange to many as France abounds with churches and Roman catholicism was preserved as the official state religion unlike during the  Reformation in England. However it did have a Revolution and the effects of that can be seen and felt as one travels from town and village church to another. Yes, Mass can be found in some but they are often run down and sad looking. No monetary help from the state and falling populations and congregations has taken its toll. However we loved Rocamadour, set in a gorge above a tributary of the River Dordogne. It's sanctuary of the Blessed virgin Mary has attracted pilgrims from every country.
The town below the complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches was traditionally dependent on the pilgrimage site and now on the tourist trade.

 The buildings of Rocamadour  rise in stages up the side of a cliff. It is spectacular! Flights of steps ascend from the lower town to the churches. The chief of them is the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame (rebuilt  from 1479) which contains a wooden Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Amadour himself. He is identified with the Zaccheus in the Gospel story. The small Benedictine community reserves to itself the use of the small twelfth-century church of Saint-Michael. it was pleasing to find daily adoration and Mass attended by pilgrim groups and individuals.  The subterranean church of St Amadour (1166) contains relics of the saint. On the summit of the cliff stands the ch√Ęteau built in the Middle Ages to defend the sanctuaries.
We prayed for all the families and individual members of the Holy Family Guild here.