My work coordinating the international missions of Holy Cross Family Ministries requires me to travel a great deal. During the summer, flight connections took me through London at one point, so I decided to take a day or so to go to a Marian Shrine that I’d wanted to visit for a while: Our Lady of Walshingham. Though not well known outside of England at this point, it had been a major pilgrimage destination for all of Western Europe in the High Middle Ages.
On a summer morning, I began my brief pilgrimage to the site about three hours north of London. Once you move away from the city, the way enters rural England. The lovely landscapes invited me to get into the spirit of pilgrimage.
I found myself prayerfully recalling the last few years, thankful for it all but also challenged to take a hard look at some things too, coming up with a lot of question marks as anyone who is really honest with himself ought to. At the same time, while I was rather charmed by the English fields and villages, I seemed to sense other memories–centuries of violence and suffering that have scarred England and Western Europe.
I let one of my favorite CDs, Pursue Me, by our friend Danielle Rose, repeat and repeat, helping me to surface longings within me that wanted to get out. For some reason, I had this feeling like I was carrying within me the fears of a world that struggles with faith like standing before a black hole, yet the closer I got, the more I felt I was then a boy who was finally on his way home. Danielle sang for me, “Hail Mary, full of grace …”
Though I had read the history of Walshingham, I hadn’t really “gotten” its message until I arrived there. In 1061, Our Lady appeared to a noblewoman, Lady Richeldis and showed her a vision of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth. The Blessed Virgin told Richeldis that she wanted a replica of her home built on that spot. That is what they did and then a basilica was built around the house. The story makes me remember what Our Lady said to St. Juan Diego in Guadalupe: “I want a house built here so I can show my love to my children.”
Walshingham´s popularity as a pilgrimage site grew and grew. Pilgrims knew what I experienced there, as I have in Guadalupe and many other great Marian shrines – I had come home … to my Mother and to the Lord´s Peace.
Many English Kings and Queens made pilgrimages there, including Henry VIII and his first two wives, asking for a male child, until he finally ordered the shrine to be destroyed when he broke communion with Rome. Yet about 100 years ago both Anglicans and Catholics re-established pilgrimage centers. Once more Our Lady is calling her lost children home from that place.
My visit there wasn’t that long but still it was a powerful renewal for me as a religious and a priest. I grow ever more conscious that Mary truly is my Mother. In God’s mystery I have been ordained to be alter Christus, another Christ, standing in his place at the Eucharist. His Mother has taken me as her son. I come to know ever more how I need her and love her. I want to take all the opportunities I can to go home to her, in daily prayer, especially praying with her at the Eucharist and, when I can, going to beautiful shrines like Walshingham.
Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., is the Director of Family Rosary International, which is a part Holy Cross Family Ministries. HCFM was founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross priest who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and preached that the “family that prays together, stays together.” Fr. Phalan will be writing for the Spes Unica Blog each month to share with us the great work of Family Rosary International, yet Family Ministries is one of the creative ways that Holy Cross continues to reach across borders of every sort to spread hope. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross.