The first major pilgrimage visit of the 2018 National Pilgrimage Tour of the Miraculous Relic Image to the Church of Divine Mercy in Slough was a huge success, with a beautiful church, a dedicated and hard-working team organising the events, a packed programme and some five thousand people – 2,500 on the Sunday alone – flocking in over the five days. It was particularly pleasing to see both Polish and non-Polish communities joining together so closely in our shared Catholic faith. Very generous offerings were made to support the on-going work of the National Pilgrimage Tour, and business at the repository was brisk as pilgrims purchased souvenirs of the pilgrimage visit.
As always, the weekend began with the Service of Reception and the Guadalupe Mass. Before this, the Guardians and the Knights of St Columba had spent several hours setting up the Relic Image and all that goes with it. The flower arrangers had decorated the church in Papal colours of yellow and white, including bunches of roses on the end of each bench and, of course, roses around Our Lady.
We had a distinguished Principal Celebrant, Monsignor Seán Healy, Vicar General of the Diocese of Northampton. A record number of eleven Guardians were present on the Friday evening, as well as a number of priests and religious. Representing the civic community in Slough was the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Paul Sohal. Mr Sohal is a Sikh and was attending a Catholic Mass for the first time, representing a large Sikh community in the town.
Mgr Seán Healy took as the theme for his homily To Jesus through Mary, explaining that Mary is a conduit for her Son and her life always points us towards Jesus.
Veneration of the Relic Image by a large queue of people followed the Mass.
There was a generously catered reception at which Councillor Paul Sohal said what a pleasure it was to have shared in the evening and how such events bring the religious and civic communities together. Mgr Seán Healy also expressed his pleasure at being invited and extended his best wishes for the rest of the pilgrimage visit.
Following veneration, which went on until 9.30pm, an all-night vigil was organised by The Pope John Paul II Group.
Saturday saw crowds gather from early in the morning – keen to come for the morning Mass and to venerate the Miraculous Relic Image. Many had come from different parts of London and beyond, with a group coming from Aldershot and another coming from Newbury, both of whom had seen the Pilgrimage advertised in the national Catholic press.
The Guardians and Knights of Saint of Columba led a morning reflection on the Queenship of Our Lady at which veneration was continuous. The morning programme ended with the Angelus and the Rosary Chaplet led by Millie Fernandez, the parish organiser, and her parish team. After lunch, Guardian Andrew gave the talk on the Miraculous Relic Image and the Guadalupe apparitions. A group of Bridgettine Sisters from Iver Heath joined us to listen and to venerate.
In the early afternoon, members of the Filipino community came to lead a well-attended music and prayer service in the charismatic tradition, with the theme of Our Lady as the pathway to Jesus and our salvation at its heart.
Father Dariusz was the principal celebrant at the Healing Mass that followed. So many pilgrims queued for the anointing that assistant priest, Father Miraz, had to be called on to assist. Veneration continued until Mass at 6.00pm. The highlight of the music of the Mass was the singing of the hymn to Our Lady of Guadalupe in both English and Polish.
The first full day ended with the Rosary of Our Lady of Guadalupe hosted by Father Mark Odion MVSP and led by the Rosary Group from the nearby Church of Our Lady of Peace Burnham, who came to visit us especially for the occasion. Veneration continued until 9.30pm. It was a hectic and happy day.
Sunday was a day packed full of surprises and spiritual activities. We arrived at 7.45am to be greeted by a nearly full church waiting for the 8.00am Mass to start.
On a regular Sunday, over 2,000 attend the four Sunday Masses in Polish but, with the pilgrimage visit of the Miraculous Relic Image, many non-speaking Polish people from a wide geographical area joined the regular Polish congregation. The church was so crowded at each Mass that many had to stand in the entrance area and outside in the car park. So many people wished to venerate that both the 10.00am and 12.00 noon Mass started late. Father Dariusz estimated that during Sunday over 2,500 people had come to worship and to be present before the Miraculous Relic Image.
Guardian Ewa delivered a talk in Polish on Pope Saint John Paul II’s devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and his gift of the Miraculous Relic Image to Great Britain.
In the afternoon, after the Guardian’s talk, around 100 members of the Indian and Goan communities joined for Mass under the Malayalam rite led by Father Shaju. It was a colourful yet sacred occasion with the Mass liturgy and readings all sung, including the Hymn to Our Lady of Guadalupe, in their native language. Many other nationalities mixed with the Indian congregation for this wonderful spiritually refreshing and new experience. The Indian community, as is traditional, provided food after Mass for all those attending.
After a short period for veneration, we were joined by many parents and other pilgrims to hear the Polish Children’s Choir sing songs and hymns in their native language to ‘Mother Mary’. Father Miraz led the children in a decade of the Rosary and told the children the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The afternoon event ended with the children singing the Guadalupe Hymn. Veneration and well-attended Mass followed. A Polish Mass – one of many over the weekend – was followed at 7.30pm by Spirit and Light Worship, a charismatic event with the opportunity for the laying on of hands, and the chance to worship Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar. This was hosted by Father Andrew Richardson and the St Andrew’s Worship Group from the nearby town of Cippenham.
Guardians Barbara and Donna, who had come to prepare for the Schools Morning on Monday, joined the Guardians Team for the evening programme. The church closed at 10.15pm.
Monday morning on Pilgrimage Visits is always given over to the local schools, who are contacted well in advance and invited to send representatives. There were two groups on this occasion, totalling some thirty students, from St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School and a combined group from St Joseph’s, St Ethelbert’s and St Anthony’s Schools. They learnt the Guadalupe Hymn, enjoyed a presentation about Our Lady of Guadalupe and were even able to feel ‘cactus cloth’ to give them an idea of Juan Diego’s tilma. After the talk they queued to venerate the Relic Image and to put a petition slip in the box before a quick drink and heading back to school.
Following the Angelus and noonday Mass, a well-attended church heard the Story of the Guadalupe Apparitions. Veneration continued until 3.00pm when the Pro-Life Prayer Service took place. We were joined by pro-life supporters from a wide area, including members of the Ealing Group, where their local council has used legislation to end the practice of vigils outside the abortion clinic. The group and their supporters came to invoke Our Lady’s assistance as Protectress of the Unborn with the appeal going through the High Court. The pilgrims listened to a lecture on the urgent need for Catholics to reaffirm their commitment to being pro-life in a throwaway society, using the effective weapons of prayer and silent vigil. After evening Mass, a well-attended family retreat before the Blessed Sacrament was held in both Polish and English. Veneration continued until 9.30pm.
The Church opened with morning prayers and the Guardians’ Office, followed by Stations of the Cross. A group from Hampshire, who had seen the Pilgrimage advertised in the Catholic press, came to join us for the final day. Before Mass and the Service of Return, we were joined by the Bunnies pre-school group who are based at the church. About twenty-five children accompanied by their teachers came to sing and say simple prayers to Our Lady. For the packed pilgrim congregation, to see the little ones was a delightful and deeply moving spiritual experience.
Following Mass, we moved to the Service of Return. Father Dariusz returned the Miraculous Relic Image to the care of Guardian John. Guardian Andrew gave a short talk and reflection on the success and legacy of the pilgrimage visit. Father Dariusz Kuwaczka (Parish Priest) and Provincial Grand Knight Rosario Fichardo (Province 30 Knights of Saint Columba) were presented with commemorative pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Guardians Michael and Dick.
Millie, the parish organiser, on behalf of her team, was enrolled as an Honorary Guardian in recognition of all her love, help and support during the pilgrimage.
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.
This had been a very successful Pilgrimage Visit; the hospitality of Millie and her team, and the cooperation of Father Dariusz and the parish was truly humbling. The description ‘Catholic Pilgrimage’ was totally appropriate, as the pilgrimage visit of the Miraculous Relic Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Polish Church in Slough had been truly universal with the mixing of so many different nationalities coming for pilgrimage and veneration.