Sunday, 31 May 2015

Chartres memories (1)

So the dust has settled, I have emptied my in-box, and got a few nights' sleep in a real bed. Perhaps it is time to start to reflect on this year's Chartres pilgrimage.

Unlike last couple of times (see here for example) we did not join the English pilgrims in London for the journey. That was because Dominque had an exam on the Friday morning (GCSE) so there was not sufficient time. Instead, we picked her up from school, and then Anna drove Charlie Dominique and me to Newcastle airport, where we met Ant, who had also been working in her school in the North East that day.

So we flew out as a family, having booked into the same hotel in Paris as the English Chapter. However, they were mostly out on the town when we got there, so we took ourselves off to a nearby restaurant for a family meal, which was lovely.

And then it started: alarms were set for 4.30 am on Saturday morning. We showered, I put protective sports tape on my feet, and we joined the rest of the English Chapters for Breakfast at 5.00. It was good to see many old familiar faces, and also a large number of first-time pilgrims (particularly in the youth Chapter).

The sad news was that our Chaplain for the youth Chapter had had to cancel at the last minute. Anyone who knows Fr Mark Withoos will realise what a pity that was: he is a fantastic priest, with a great (albeit Australian) sense of humour, bundles of energy, and a no-nonsense Catholic approach. However, he had to stay in Rome as he is personal secretary to Cardinal Pell, and on the previous day, a concerted (and malicious) media campaign had been launched against the Cardinal in an attempt (I think) to discredit him before the forthcoming Synod, as he is both orthodox and courageous...

Nonetheless, we were shortly to be joined by Fr Alex Redman and Fr Joseph Gedeon (a friend and compatriot of Fr Withoos), so we were extremely well provided for at the spiritual level. And in case anyone is wondering why I march with the youth Chapter, despite my advanced age, it is because I have titular responsibility for the Chapter as Chef de Chapitre - mainly, I think, because I can speak French.

After breakfast, we got on a coach to Notre Dame de Paris, where we were greeted by the inspiring site of the Parvis (or square) in front of the Cathedral filling with banners and pilgrims.  After dropping off our heavy bags at the Etrangers lorry for transportation to the campsite, we took our place with the Normandy chapters, with whom we traditionally march, and made our way into the Cathedral for Mass.

The Mass, of course, was wonderful. It was a High Mass, celebrated by Dom Louis-Marie, the Abbot of  Sainte Madeleine du Barroux.

And after Mass, the first march of the day: 2 1/2 hours to get us (almost) out of Paris, and to the park in the suburb of Plessis-Robinson, some 6 1/2 miles from Notre Dame. This year I learned for the first time that 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 ! 
Then another march, with the sun getting a bit hotter, but with plenty of cloud cover to stop it being as oppressively hot as in many previous years.

The typical pattern of activity for a march is that we start with convivial conversation, then sing a rosary (normally in Latin, though we did sing one in French, and say one in English along the way). Then one of our chaplains reads a meditation.  The first meditation of the day was on St Athanasius and St Hilary of Poitiers, our patrons for the day. They were redoubtable champions of orthodoxy in the time of the Arian heresy.

The remaining meditations were on the theme for the year: Jesus Christ, saviour of the world. I am posting the meditations on this blog, separately.

We also variously sing hymns and secular songs, and have more convivial chat. And most importantly, the chaplains are always available to hear confessions.

That is done by the simple expedient of moving into the gap between chapters, and talking as you walk. Our chaplains were kept very busy with this, so I think practically everyone in the Chapter went to confession at some stage over the three days.

By the time we get into the campsite at about 8 o'clock on the first evening, we have been up for nearly 16 hours, and marching for 10 of them. 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.

And then it is a matter of finding our bags (which have been gently lifted from the Etrangers lorry and left in the grass) pitching our tents (or bagging a space in the large communal tents), queuing for soup and bread, and then washing, before retiring for the night.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ben
I am writing to enquire if some one has interfered with your site.
When I put Countercultural father into my computer and your site pops up there is the following statement "Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality, but to protect the common good, and illegal abortion does not save..." I am interested to know if you support this view, which I doubt. I am an avid reader of your blog and look for your comments every day God bless JAMES D.

Ben Trovato said...


What you are seeing is a quotation from this post:

Clearly it is not my view: it is one with which I take issue.

I don't know why it should pop up when you search on Countercultural Father - the vagaries of Google, perhaps.

Thanks for your kind words about my blog.