Early on Saturday morning, 10th March 2018, Guardians Andrew, Keith, Martin, Mike and Petrit arrived, accompanied by the Knights of Saint Columba from Province 38, at the Church of St Philip & St James, Brickhill, Bedford for the start of this year’s National Pilgrimage Tour.
Father Wayne Coughlin, Parish Priest, and parishioners were there to meet us for this exciting Pilgrimage Visit of the Miraculous Relic Image and the blessing of a specially commissioned Icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which will be on permanent display in the church.
As on any Pilgrimage Visit, a complete programme of Mass, prayer services, talks and devotions would take place for the many parishioners and Pilgrim visitors who had travelled from the Northampton and East Anglian Dioceses and beyond to be with us for this special day.
Joined by other Guardians, Pilgrims and Knights, our day began with Morning Prayer, Mass and the Reception of the Miraculous Relic Image into the church. Before the final blessing, the Knights of Saint Columba and Guardians processed the travelling case to the veneration area for the ceremonial installation of the Miraculous Relic Image.
After Mass, Pilgrims and Parishioners joined us for a reflection Mary of Guadalupe, the Pilgrim Queen given by the Guardians. Veneration of the Miraculous Relic Image and of an authenticated Relic of the True Cross took place as we said the Rosary of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Divine Mercy devotions, led by Seminarians Daniel Rooke and Liam Castle (from the parish of St Philip and St James), and by Guardian Maggie, which completed our morning programme.
At 12 noon there was a request that all took their seats. The new Icon was carried in, wrapped in a cloth bearing pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and placed in the sanctuary near the Miraculous Relic Image.
Father Wayne thanked the iconographer, Constantina Alexander TSSF, for the gift of her beautiful work and admitted that he had given her quite a tight schedule of only 2½ months to complete it. The cover was then removed to reveal the Icon; the familiar figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe gleamed with bright colour and gold. The congregation was visibly moved at the sight.
Constantina was then asked by Father Wayne to speak about the creative process. Her website states that her work “is suffused with prayer, contemplation and reverence for the Divine” and this was confirmed by the way she spoke warmly about how much closer she had drawn to Our Lady and to Jesus as she had worked on the various features of the Icon and, through that, how much closer to humanity in general. She said that this had come as a real delight to her. Father Wayne invited the congregation to thank Constantina for her endeavours, which they did with a heartfelt round of applause. To say thank you for the gift, Constantina was presented with a bouquet of flowers and a rosary depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After a bring and share lunch, there were ample opportunities to visit the Guadalupe Repository Guardians, Sheila and Mike, who reported brisk business meeting the needs of Pilgrims for devotional items.
The afternoon programme began with Guardian Andrew giving a testimony, with examples of the strength and power we had seen that the Miraculous Relic Image had brought to Pilgrims whom we had met while travelling throughout the United Kingdom. He asked for special prayers for the residents of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, the place of the next Pilgrimage Visit of the Miraculous Relic Image.
Guardian Mary led the meditative reflections for the Stations of the Cross, which focussed on Mother Mary’s suffering at every stage of the journey to Calvary with her beloved Son Jesus.
Before a packed Church, we spent a quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament with the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation celebrated by Father Christopher Perry of Bletchley to prepare for the Celebration of the Laetare Sunday Mass. Appropriately, the incense used was “rose” scented!
Father Wayne was the Principal Celebrant and was assisted by Deacons Tony Quinlan and Crispin Walkling-Lea; each of whom was resplendent in rose vestments! Father Wayne’s chasuble, specially ordered for the occasion, had the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on it. Candles from Mexico bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Sacred Heart of Jesus were processed and presented as an offering at the start of Mass.
Father Wayne’s moving and thought-provoking homily focused on Our Lady of Guadalupe as the one to whom we can bring our prayers; these, he suggested, we place on her star-speckled mantle! Father Wayne continued that Our Lady is the door by which mercy entered the world and that we rightly call her the Mother of Mercy.
As Mass ended, Brother Kevin, Provincial Officer of the Knights of Saint Columba, Province 38, thanked Father Wayne for providing the opportunity for us to experience such a spiritually rewarding day. Guardian Andrew thanked Father Wayne and the parishes of St Philip & St James and Holy Cross on behalf of the Guardians and followers of the Devotion, for the commitment to Our Blessed Mother Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Guardian Vincent presented Father Wayne with the Guardian’s Badge of Office in recognition of his service to Our Blessed Mother through the commisioning of the icon and facilitating such a beautiful and rewarding day. Applauded by all, Father Wayne said he hoped this would become an annual Pilgrimage Visit taking place on the Saturday before Mothering/ Laetare/ Rose Sunday.
Deacon Tony led the prayers of Return and, due to the numbers of Pilgrims who remained behind after the Service of Return wishing to venerate or just to say goodbye, we left, as usual, later than we intended.