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U.K. Pilgrimages Booming

Anglican National Pilgrimage procession on the grounds of the ruined abbey at Walsingham, May 2003 • Matt-rex/Wikimedia Commons

There is much debate about whether formal religion is fading away in the United Kingdom. What is certain, however, is that one aspect of religious life is flowering: pilgrimage. In the last decade, no fewer than 30 pilgrimage routes have been created or rediscovered. Visits to holy places grew by 14 percent, said the British Pilgrimage Trust, a new venture committed to reviving “travel on foot to holy places.”

Not all these pilgrims are Christians. “Bring your own beliefs” is the motto of the trust, cofounded by Guy Hayward and Will Parsons. Hayward thinks pilgrimage has a universal appeal: “You’re walking in the land, in nature, you’re talking to people. It’s not complicated, but at the same time it’s very tangible.”

Nor does the trust frown on smartphones. “We think that modern pilgrimage requires modern technology to make the most of it,” Hayward said. Phone maps are better than a fold-out when you’re lost in a wood. The trust plans an app to link pilgrims with churches, fields, and village halls.

The Anglican Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham was for centuries one of Europe’s most-visited pilgrimage destinations. In 1538, however, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned pilgrimages and the Walsingham shrine was demolished. It was revived in the 19th century and today attracts 250,000 visitors a year.

The trust is building a database of pilgrimage routes. The shortest option is a ten-mile walk from the ruins of Abingdon Abbey to Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. The longest is a 21-day walk from Winchester to Canterbury. The route’s stopping places include three river sources, nine holy wells, 61 pubs, and 78 churches.

One inspiration for the trust’s founding is the enormous popularity of the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Last year more than 5,000 Britons walked the Camino.

Welby Calls for Sudanese Peace: The Archbishop of Canterbury last week called for leaders in South Sudan to cease hostilities and accept mediation. He said those who will suffer most are the poorest, especially women and children.

Those who pursue violence will face the judgment of God in answer to the cries of those whose death they have caused. “They can still turn back: with our voices and our prayers to Jesus the Prince of Peace, let us call on them to do so,” Archbishop Justin Welby said.

Archbishop Welby has visited the country several times in the past few years and seen areas “the heartbreaking suffering of the people. The failure of the leaders is clear.”

He took the opportunity to ask a question during a House of Lords debate, enquiring what the U.K. government is doing to support the peace and reconciliation commission led by the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Anglican Archbishop of South Sudan and Sudan.

Christchurch Ponders Future: New Zealand’s Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee has announced a five-member working group that will recommend the best option for the stricken Christ Church Cathedral. Brownlee acknowledged “the strong public interest in what is happening to this iconic building.”

The working group is expected to report by Dec. 7. Earlier this month engineers used a drone device for the latest survey of damage to the building. Markers on the cathedral are in place to measure further movement. Recent drone footage graphically illustrates damage inside the cathedral.

“Back in 2010 and 2011 the Diocese of Christchurch said we would put people and safety first and we have kept our word,” said the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch.“The film from the drone in the Cathedral shows severe damage from many earthquakes, including the February and March quakes this year. I look forward to what the working group recommends for the beloved Cathedral building.”


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