As Lent drags on, the only thing that keeps many of us going is the prospect of Easter at the end, but I always look 50 days beyond Easter to Pentecost. For the seventh time in my life I will undertake an epic Pentecost pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Chartres in France with ten thousand other Catholics. Beginning as the sun rises over Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the pilgrims singing, praying and bearing banners begin the 72-mile walk which will take them 3 days, starting with the streets of Paris, and before long, passing through the fields and villages of the French countryside and then on into Chartres. Each year it is an experience that changes my life. I first went when I was 11, and I recall the thrill of the thousands of people, the noise and the energy and enthusiasm stirring a deep love of Catholicism in me. As I turned teenage, the Chartres Pilgrimage became a great source of re-assurance to me. It is an incredible thing to realise there are thousands, in fact tens of thousands, of Catholics whose faith means enough to them that they will trudge through burning heat, drenching rain and knee-deep mud, tend blisters on my disgusting feet, and, in the case of many of the French scouts and guides, carry the younger ones through these conditions. In those years where fitting in seems to matter, to be somewhere that
fitting in involves an overwhelming love of Christ is hugely inspiring. Into my later teens I began to see new elements to the pilgrimage. For example, the deep reverence at Mass as ten thousand people kneel in the mud in silence at the Consecration, or those who, having walked 32 miles that day remain awake in front of the Blessed Sacrament all night, both have made a lasting impression on me. Furthermore, with no distractions from the outside world, other than agonizingly painful feet of course, the catechesis received on route really has time to sink in. I have found that after each pilgrimage that I have undertaken, I have returned to my everyday life with a new sense of how I want to live it. All in all, the Chartres pilgrimage has strengthened my faith and knowledge of the Church, increased my love of Christ and Christianity, and helped me form friendships that have got me through some of the most difficult aspects of my faith.