Patrick Ward writes…
My top five most memorable journeys:
1. 1985. At the age of 11, walking to secondary school for the first time through the most terrifying housing estate in my home-town.
2. 1991. On a coach to Poland for World Youth Day with my school and engaging with, for the first time, a mixed and wonderful group of people.
3. 1992. As a wide-eyed 18-year-old, getting a lift from my parents to London where I was about to start my first full-time job, and being a little surprised by the emotion which arose (especially in my Dad) as we said our goodbyes.
4. 2000. An anxious and desperately long car journey along a traffic-ridden M6 to see my Dad who had just suffered an unexpected and, as it turned out, a fatal stroke.
5. 2001. Sharing a plastic cup of champagne in a tatty van with a group of work colleagues to celebrate the news that my very first nephew had been born as they were driving me home to see him.
Some good memories, some not so good. Each one, however, is characterised by two things:
• I had a determined desire to reach the destination;
• I was very “present” throughout – no journey was passive.
And so it is that I heard the news a couple of days ago that our coach for Cofton Park this Sunday will be leaving at 2am. This, I imagine, will be just a few short hours after I return home from the Hyde Park prayer vigil. Admittedly, when I signed up for both events, the logistics of getting from one major event to another were not made entirely explicit and, I must confess, that I am still coming to terms with this rather unexpected departure time!
Not being passive on this journey is going to be a challenge. In fact, it has potential for being a rather grumpy and miserable affair given the unusual lack of sleep we’ll experience. So it’s going to take a lot of preparation: physical, mental, spiritual.
Food and warmth, I think, are going to be key ingredients. Lots of layers of clothing are a necessity (layers which can be stripped away when the sun bursts through on that bright, sunny Sunday morning, he says optimistically).
Something for breakfast, something for lunch and something to share with others? Tick.
Toothpaste and a toothbrush? Tick.
A blanket for the ground to avoid soggy bums? Tick.
Snacks? (Was it Christopher Columbus or Walter Raleigh who said that “all great journeys are characterised by great snacks…”? Or was that just me?) Big tick.
You can find more tips for physical preparation on the Papal website here.
Then, of course, there is the mental preparation. On a pilgrimage such as this there is, I feel, the potential to be “present” with fellow pilgrims throughout the day: speaking to people from my parish that I’ve only smiled and nodded at before; engaging in unusual dialogue with others because of the unusual experience we are sharing; supporting the young, the old and the less able on the journey. This requires both my head and my heart to be in the right place, and not pondering too much on the lost hours of sleep.
At the centre of all of this must be an acknowledgement of the experience of pilgrimage. I Googled the word “pilgrimage.” Wikipedia came top. It describes pilgrimage as “a long journey or search of great moral significance.”
Has Wiki got it right? Is that what we are on, all 80,000 of us in the wee hours of Sunday morning, plus the millions of others watching at home? Are we on a long journey or search of great moral significance? Or are we mere observers?
Why are we engaging with this unusual event? Journeying together, seeking and perhaps finding?