I chose a pilgrimage journey for my Principal’s Renewal Program as a source of spiritual strength, a time of repentance, thanksgiving, prayer and meditation. Also as an opportunity for me to encounter the love of God, learn about the miracles and works of Our Lady and the Saints and deepen my faith. I was privileged to be entrusted to take with your prayers for peace, for discernment, for healing in our hearts, minds bodies, for those who have died and for justice in the world. All of which I prayed every day and finally left in front of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Vatican, Rome.
The journey took me to many significant religious and sacred places in Europe like Fatima, Lourdes, Assisi and Rome and smaller towns like Santarem, Avila, Segovia, Loyola, Avignon, Turin and Padua.
Fatima was a particularly special place to visit in 2017, given that the Church is celebrating 100 years since the six apparitions of Our Lady to the Seers (Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta) from May to October in 1917. Fatima has been receiving thousands of pilgrims with joy this year, including Pope Francis. Pilgrims have made the journey from many parts of the world. They come to Fatima to discover how the messages of the Seers, given to them by Our Lady, influence our lives today: words of repentance, conversion to God and a turning away from sin in order to find peace in our hearts and in the world. Pilgrims make the journey to acknowledge the historical role of the Church and to immerse in the experience and the story; to walk the same cobbled stone paths, pray the same words at the Stations of the Cross, in the Sacred Mass and through the Divine Rosary and procession every evening.
In Fatima, as with Lourdes there was a real sense of hope. Where pilgrims were searching for God, revealed through signs and wonders. Not to affirm their faith, but with a curiosity to see if they may be blessed and fortunate to witness a miracle or be healed themselves. Personally, I was moved by the company of the pilgrims I met on the journey, though numerous, we were united. United in prayer while speaking in different languages, united in song although we were off key, but most importantly we were united in faith. It was a true community of people of the Catholic faith. Joined in the spirit of love as a universal church. When I asked why a pilgrimage at this time in your life, the reasons were as varied as you could image. From fulfilling a dream as a small child to visit the place where a statue had once visited a home, or for overcoming fear, finding peace, searching for inspiration, seeking calm from calamity, to a longing for surrender and acceptance. It was the honesty, courage and vulnerability in sharing their personal story, with all its grief, loss, fears, hurt and sorrow, triumphs, joy, and happy memories that made the human connection touch the sacred.
My journey was made with an open heart and a trust in our Lord. I have an even greater admiration for Mary, the Mother of God, Our Lady, who is a brave and courageous model for all men and women of complete trust and faith in God. We prayed many times each day and I re-learnt the power of both traditional and personal prayer. Whether it was a prayer directly to our Lord or through an intercession of Our Lady of the Saints, the daily practice reminded me about the constant encounters I have with God in each moment of my day and I was also able to take the time - to be present - invite God into my heart, challenge me and guide me on my journey. I also come away with new prayers to fulfil my spiritual life that I had not used before as part of my prayer life, including the Divine Chaplet and Novenas.
I have also been reminded that the call of Our Lady of Fatima which was focused on World War 1 and the rise of Communism, still has a message for us in 2017 and therefore it keeps drawing people closer together, 100 years after the first apparitions. The warnings given to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta would be very similar warnings today: sacrifice, reparation and penance. Where might our Lady appear to young people in 2017? Maybe through Youtube or a Playstation 4? After all, she is a very wise mother who would know how to seek the attention of this generation who are open to hearing the message. Whilst the messages haven’t changed, the longing in our hearts to find peace will always be so strong that we cannot resist the call from our Mother to be people of faith, believe in the power of prayer, to be people of hope and of love.
Given the beautiful prayers the students wrote for me to take on this pilgrimage I am certain they would respond to Our Lady with the same conviction, fervour and resilience in the face of ridicule and disbelief – the same way that the Seers did.
Don’t underestimate our youth and our young people, especially as we move into the College’s 2018 Fidelitas Year and the Catholic Church’s Year of Youth. The hearts, in particular, our young women, are open and their thirst for peace and healing is much stronger than the media would have you believe. It is our role as parents and carers and teachers, to nurture their hearts desires, guided by the Holy Spirit, with the Intercession of Our Lady, to bring them in closer relationship to Jesus Christ. It was a moving and beautiful experience for which I will be forever grateful.
Full image gallery at https://merici.news/view-galleries/principals-pilgrimage-reflection-2017