Report: Pilgrimage Visit to Appleby Horse Fair

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The Mission Tent

Following June 2017’s very spiritually-rewarding pilgrimage visit to Appleby Horse Fair, we had promised the Catholic Travellers’ Mission and their Chaplain, Father Philip Conner, that in 2018 we would stay for longer and bring a larger team to allow us to offer more time for veneration, spiritual activities, prayer services and an extra Mass on the Saturday.

So, on Friday, 8th June 2018, Father Jeremy (the Guardians’ Spiritual Director) joined Guardians Michael, Dick, Mike, Petrit and Andrew for the five-and-a-half-hour drive to beautiful Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria for this now annual and very different Pilgrimage Visit.

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The Guardians ready to set off

In contrast to previous years, the weather was glorious. We arrived early evening and were welcomed by Bridget, Seamus and ‘young Seamus’ – part of the team from the Travellers’ Catholic Renewal Mission. After Evening Prayer in the Mission tent, we booked into our cottage situated in nearby Penrith and settled down for an early night.

Saturday: We arrived at the site at 7.30am in bright sunshine and set about getting ready for what would be a busy yet enriching day.

Father Jeremy led the Prayers of Installation and the Guardians’ Morning Office, after which veneration started almost immediately with eager pilgrims lining up for their chance to be with Our Blessed Mother.

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Veneration started early

The reverence of the members of the travelling community coming throughout the morning in large numbers to spend time in the respectful veneration of Our Lady’s Miraculous Relic Image was, for the Guardians, spiritually uplifting. It also gave the Guardians an opportunity to meet old friends from the travelling community whom we had met on this and previous National Pilgrimage Tours. Later in the morning, we were joined by Father Philip Conner, Chaplain to the Travellers’ Fair, who came to spend the weekend with us and to concelebrate Saturday’s extra Mass, with Father Jeremy as the Principal Celebrant. The Fathers spent time offering confession to the many who came seeking reconciliation. Rosaries and a prayer service took place before the noonday Mass. The tent was packed for what was a joyous and uplifting occasion of the celebration of the Sacraments. Father Jeremy preached on ‘The Word of God given to His People’.

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Fr Jeremy and Fr Philip Conner

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Sisters of Charity

Again, as last year, the Sisters of Charity came from their convent in Newcastle and were a great help giving out prayer cards and writing prayer petition slips.

Saturday afternoon was also well attended. Fathers Philip and Jeremy interviewed parents who wanted their children to be baptised and receive First Holy Communion. First Confessions took place in the open air in an area reserved behind the Mission tent. Veneration and the Guardians’ programme of prayer and reflection took place at various times. At 3.00pm Father Philip led a Holy Hour with a Divine Mercy Prayer Service and Benediction.

The two ‘Mikes’ did brisk business on the Repository stall – statues and rosaries being very popular.

At 6.00pm, an event anticipated throughout the day took place: in the crowded Mission tent, Father Jeremy, assisted by the Guardians, delivered the Healing Service, which as its climax included personal worship and anointing by Father with the Blessed Sacrament. The Service had been preceded by thunder and lightning and a cloudburst of torrential rain causing the road outside the Mission tent to flood.

Around 8.00pm members of the Mission helped us load the van for the night and we returned to Penrith tired but profoundly aware of the day’s shared spiritual experiences. The Travellers who had attended that day had show us a genuine spirit of Christian love from a community that is often maligned and marginalised by society.

Sunday: Sunday saw the Guardians make an early start for the culmination of the Pilgrimage Visit, which would include Baptism and First Holy Communions as part of the noonday Mass. We arrived at the Mission tent and the day began with Morning Prayer and the Chaplet of Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the morning, while veneration and preparation for Mass took place, Guardians and Travellers shared testimonies of their spiritual journeys of faith.

At 11.30am the young people receiving First Holy Communion arrived with their parents. The girls’ dresses looked both elaborate and beautiful. Little Mary came in her pushchair for Baptism.

Father Philip was the Principal Celebrant for the Mass, Father Jeremy concelebrated. Families and friends packed the tent to see the children being baptised and receiving their First Holy Communion. The Guardians, as is now a tradition, presented the children with rosaries as a remembrance of their special day. Guardians Mike and Michael said the readings at Mass.

After Mass, Father Philip, assisted by Father Jeremy, with Guardians Petrit and Mike as flag bearers and a large group following, carried the Blessed Sacrament in praise and procession through the Travellers’ camp and nearby roads, returning to the Mission tent about an hour later for the final prayers.

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Throughout the remaining afternoon, veneration and the programme of prayer and reflection took place. However, all too soon it was time for us to say goodbye. Members of the Mission, led by Seamus and Bridget and ably supported by ‘young Seamus’, helped us load the van for the long journey back to the Shrine in Bedford.

For both the Travelling community and the Guardians, this Pilgrimage Visit had been the occasion of great joy and spiritual renewal, and we look forward to revisiting them in 2019.