A pilgrimage is a strange thing to encounter in our modern world. The idea of getting rid of the comforts of modern life, leaving behind your TV, central heating, and even the luxury of a crowded bus ride, and starting to walk to your destination, be it hours or months away. You don’t know what dangers you might find on your journey. Torrential downpours, injury, getting lost and in our case even facing the beast of Bodmin Moor! The image of a pilgrim trudging slowly from town to town in search of some elusive destination, reliant on the kindness of strangers, owning nothing but what can fit in the bag on their back, can be an unsettling one. It seems a pilgrim is someone voluntarily choosing to be poor and must suffer on the way.
Yet while we see the Pilgrim as lowly and humble the idea of pilgrimage is something else entirely. In our history books, we learn of the Pilgrimage of Grace (an armed rebellion) and we often come across figures like the pope who recently made a Pilgrimage of Peace to South Sudan. It seems that a pilgrimage can be about more than suffering. Pilgrim carries their clothes on their back, a stick in their hand but in their Heart and soul, they carry something much more important. They carry Hope, Joy, Peace, repentance, sorrow, Grace, and all of these mere reflections of Love, for God’s Love is carried with them as they go.
And we on this pilgrimage from sea to sea are doing it from love. The love that has brought us here in the footsteps of our forebear St. Columban is that which we bear towards our planet, responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Over the next few days, we will walk from coast to coast, through farmland and moorland in some of the richest nature left in our country and we will treasure every moment. For too many people in our world today the countryside around them is too wasted, too hostile for them to have engaged in a pilgrimage of their own. As Pope Francis says, the throwaway culture of our world is making our common home ‘look like an immense pile of filth’.
St. Columban travelled from his native Ireland and passed through Cornwall on the way to Europe. He felt so passionately about the message he felt in his heart that he left the world he knew behind and set out to a new world on foot. In today’s high-speed world, we have forgotten that slow and steady can take you round the world and back. By passing through the world slowly on foot we rediscover the truth that as Pope Francis says: “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”
As we walk with hearts full of love, hope for the future and sorrow for our failings, we offer up our suffering, our prayers and our love to God and his world calling for a change of heart. May our pilgrimage light a fire from Padstow to Fowey that shines out across the world. We need nothing less than an ecological conversion of hearts, for us all to become Pilgrims of Hope walking the way to healing our world and to do so with Joy singing while we go!