Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chartres 2016 (1)

So, another year, another pilgrimage to Chartres...

I have written about this so many times in previous years, that it is hard to know what to say without repeating myself endlessly (see the tag Chartres for previous accounts).

One difference this year was that I went alone; none of the children were free to come with me, for various reasons.  So I travelled down to London alone the night before, and arrived very late, due to an incident on the line, and stopped at a B&B in Victoria.  

We start the pilgrimage with Mass at 7.00 am in the Cathedral Crypt, which was surprisingly empty at 7.00 am. I wondered if I had got it wrong, but Fr George Roth was there to say the Mass - it was only the congregation who were lacking. They all piled in a minute or two later as Mass was starting: I never did find out why.

The Mass, of course, was in the traditional Roman Rite (the Extraordinary Form, as we now call it), and was very prayerful. The other priests on the pilgrimage also said their Masses at the same time in other chapels in the crypt. (This was the only photo I took on the whole trip. Those wanting pictures should look at the LMS Facebook page, or the official pilgrimage site.)

Then we all got on the coach, and it was off to Dover to catch the ferry. Avid readers will remember that a couple of years ago, my eldest daughter had left her passport behind. This year, it was one of the Readings who could not find his passport, so cancelled - he clearly hadn't heard how we had smuggled Ant over the border... Rumour has it that Fr Roth did not have his passport with him, either, but we pass lightly over that.

The ferry crossing was pleasant enough, with fish and chips for lunch (it being Friday) and we got to our hotel outside Paris without further ado, with a few hymns and a rosary or two. There we went to an Italian restaurant just around the corner (why, I don't know: go to Paris and eat pizzas....) but it was pleasant enough, and the company convivial.

The next morning we started the tougher part of the pilgrimage: up at the time my children normally go to bed, so as to have breakfast at 5.00, get on the coach by 5.30 and get to Notre Dame for 6.00 am. There we met the indefatigable and inimitable Fr Mark Withoos, the chaplain of our chapter, who had flown in from Rome (he is Cardinal Pell's private secretary, and had been granted an exeat on condition that he didn't wreck himself as he did last time he came...)

Then we had High Mass in the Cathedral, which is always a wonderful and moving celebration, and finally set off on the long march out of Paris; onto the rive gauche, past the Luxembourg gardens, and out through the suburbs. This first march is one of the longest, and often one of the toughest: two and a half hours of city walking, until we get to the park in the suburb of Plessis-Robinson, some 6 1/2 miles from Notre Dame. The apples we are always treated to at this park are provided by the local municipality as a gesture of welcome.  The official website for the pilgrimage carries a wonderful sentence in English (almost) on this subject:
An apple a day keep the pelgrin alive ! 
During the marches, we sang hymns (Faith of our Fathers, to start with, and then a variety of others) said prayers (starting, as each day, with a morning offering) and sang the rosary (in decades variously in Latin, French and English). We also have a meditation, normally read by one of the priests marching with us (as well as Fr Withoos, we were looked after by Fr Roth and Fr Verier, who was ordained almost a year ago into the FSSP). We also have plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves, and this Catholic conviviality is an important part of the pilgrimage. Indeed, a few marriages have resulted, over the years...

The English were marching in two chapters, one under the banner of Our Lady of Walsingham (until the banner pole snapped) and the other, the youth chapter of which I am titular Chef de Chapitre, under the patronage (but not banner, as it too had broken) of St Alban.

This year the weather was very kind to us; pleasantly mild, which was perfect walking weather. The rest of the day followed the same pattern: march for ages, rest for minutes, march for more ages... until we got to the campsite at Choisel, somewhere around  8 o'clock. By this time we have been up for about 16 hours, and marching for 10 of them, covering a fraction less than 25 miles.  So we always make a point of singing lustily as we arrive, to show that we Brits are nothing daunted by such a trivial stroll. This year was no exception, and we made a decent noise as we arrived.

Then bags were retrieved (they travel by lorry, mercifully), tents pitched, soup and rolls eaten, and the sensible ones among us retired for the night as soon as possible, putting in our earplugs, against the carousing of the French Scouts...

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