Waking up at 6:30am, I quickly got ready for the day ahead. The team and I met downstairs for breakfast in our hotel, the Alba. It was pretty basic – croissants, jams and cereal – but it did the job.
We then made our way to the Salle de Transit St Frai, joining all the Redcaps for a morning briefing in a conference room. Once we’d all got the plans sorted, we had time for a quick sit-down in a café. It started to drizzle, however, and with the opening Mass coming up shortly by the Grotto, I realised I’d need to collect my umbrella from the hotel to protect my camera.
Grotto Mass and Camera trouble
After picking up the umbrella and making my way to the Grotto, I saw that all the Redcaps, their malades and many others were arriving too and getting into position for the Mass – which was being celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
One of our team members, Dan, a youth worker from Tring, kindly offered to be my Umbrella Man for the Mass, to protect my camera from the rain. But alas, the constant drizzle was of the kind that is light enough to get blown in all directions, so the camera was still being partially affected. This later led to the camera malfunctioning. It’s now resting in my hotel room, trying to recover, but it’s not looking good. Curiously, after the Mass the weather started to improve. If my camera had just endured 20 more minutes it might have pulled through!
The entire Diocese of Westminster pilgrimage group then made its way the short distance to the front of the Rosary Basilica, to take our group photo.
The dull weather increasingly gave way to sunshine and by lunchtime it was much-improved from the time of the Mass. I and a few others from the team had lunch at the Alba Hotel, where we chatted with the Redcaps and others.
Opening up New Horizons
After lunch, we all made our way to St Bernadette Cote Grotto, on the other side of the river from the Rosary Basilica. Here, we had a great catechesis session, led by Bishop Nicholas Hudson.
Bishop Nicholas began by talking about the New Horizons mission to Pluto, before moving on to discuss how everything in creation has a mission. Even God gave himself a mission – to experience everything that we experience; he became one of us and wanted to suffer with us.
But as St Teresa of Avila said, now that Christ has returned to Heaven, “Christ has no body now on Earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.” In other words, Jesus needs us to continue the mission here on Earth.
Vocation is the answer to the question “Who am I?”
This led Bishop Nicholas to talk about how, in that call to mission from Jesus to us, we need to find our vocation in life. For as St John Paul II said, vocation is the answer to the question, “Who am I?” It can be hard working out our vocation in life, but it is in that search that we discover who we are.
The key to finding our vocation is to pray, said the bishop; to pray every day. Evangelisation is dependent on a daily encounter with Jesus. But it can be difficult to have this encounter every day. But little by little, and if we are faithful, we will find that the Holy Spirit reveals more and more to us about our vocation.
Linking his words to our pilgrimage, he said that part of the gift of pilgrimage is that you start to learn more about yourself. He then encouraged the Redcaps to take alone-time away from their groups in order to think, in silence, about life and their own vocations.
The Normal Life of Pier
He then talked about the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati, an Italian Catholic who was very much a normal guy but who had also discovered his vocation in life.
Pier came from a well-to-do family and could have been whatever he wanted to be. He graduated in Engineering, as he wanted to help those who needed it most – the poor and sick. In his normality, he was dedicated to giving himself to others.
It was in this giving of himself that he contracted polio and died at the age of 24. But his life – his witness to the faith and the normality of his life – became an inspiration for many; he was beatified a few decades ago, one step from becoming a saint.
As someone from the audience said, many young Catholics today can often be made to feel that being a faithful Christian and a normal person in the world can’t work together. But the lives of young people like Blessed Pier show that being a faithful Christian and living normally in the world complement each other.
Bishop Nicholas said that once in a generation, certain individuals arise who take Jesus at his word and show us in a profound way the joy of living an authentically Christian life in our world. Pier is a great testament to that truth.
Gearing up towards Confession
After catechesis, I had some free time to rest for a moment, skype my fiancée in Brazil and post some content onto our social media platforms.
Phil and I then had dinner at a restaurant with a strong football theme; the ceiling was lined with football scarves from around Europe (and maybe beyond!), with football shirts coating the walls. We had burger and chips, which really hit the spot.
We then met up with the rest of the team and collectively made our way to the St Pius X Basilica, for the Penitential Service. This is a cool place, as it’s entirely underground, and has a structure that reminds me of the ribcage of a giant creature. It’s surrounded by scores of large posters of saints and blessed people in the Church’s history.
Ending the day in Reflection
After the service, the team and a number of Redcaps made their way to the prairie for night prayer and a reflection. This was led by Rebekah and Brother John, from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They gave us some lovely reflections to consider, which was helped by the candlelight and pleasant evening climate.
It was a busy first day, but a lovely, reflective way to end.