Our Lady of Czestochowa arrived exactly at 4pm to a gracious and loving welcome from the faithful. The Shrine Director, Fr. Alan Williams welcomed her into the Slipper Chapel - place of the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady in England where she was incensed and the Salve Regina was sung. It was poignant that Our Lady, coming with a Mission in defence of life, family and marriage, should have her first stop here in Walsingham.
The Slipper Chapel - premier Shrine of the Incarnation in honour of the first of Our Lady's Joys …the Annunciation, and symbolic of the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth - time of the formative and hidden years of Christ's life. In this National Shrine Our Lady holds the suffering and tormented soul of England …for how England needs Christ and his holy Mother….An England which needs to return to her ancient faith and love of Jesus as the great prophecy of Pope Leo XIII states…"When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England".
The Icon was then processed with the chant of gentle Aves into the Chapel of Our Lady of Reconciliation where she will remain until her departure on Friday. As Our Lady entered a great organ voluntary welcomed her followed by the great singing of Daily , daily sing to Mary.
Then followed a solemn singing of traditional Russian Orthodox hymns of welcome by the small Russian Orthodox Community here in Walsingham led by Archpriest Philip. He then led hundreds of people in the traditional Orthodox solemn veneration of the Icon. These were poignant silent and meditative moments where deep love and devotion were expressed.
Dr. Tom Ward, one of the International Organizers of Ocean to Ocean then briefly spoke to us about the Mission of Ocean to Ocean and also drew our attention to the great desire of the Heart of Blessed John Paul II that the Church might breathe with two lungs …. Catholic and Orthodox …we certainly received a flavour of that in the welcome ceremony. We need to pray intensely for this day.
Fr. Ian Kelly then gave the opening address of the Retreat and spoke movingly 'Heart to Heart' on 'Jesus our source of Life' . Rarely have I heard a priest speak with such depth of the love of Christ and his great desire for intimacy with his people and his longing for that relationship with each and every one of us. Thank you Father. Evening Prayer of the Church followed and then a period of silent prayer and further veneration as people came and went.
The Vigil of Eucharistic Adoration followed led by Fr. Kelly and Antonia. A time of intense Adoration, Reparation and Intercession before Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament with Our Lady. We poured out our concerns for Marriage, Life and Family to the Lord and prayed deeply both in silence and in devotional prayer and the Rosary. The atmosphere in the Chapel was extraordinarily powerful with the beautiful Icon adorned with flowers and candles and Jesus present with us against the backdrop of the beautiful new stained glass windows depicting the story of the apparition here in Walsingham….one could not help but be moved and drawn deeply into prayer.
At one point in the Vigil we had to call an ambulance for someone … who in the end was fine….the two paramedics who came…were overwhelmed by this powerful atmosphere as they entered the Chapel…almost to tears …they felt something they had never experienced before! After treating the dear lady who collapsed and before leaving they came forward with me to venerate the Icon and entrust their families and relationships to Jesus and Mary. This was a very exceptional moment of grace. It shows the longing in the hearts of people for something more than this present world is offering.
May Our Lady of Czestochowa Queen and Star of Poland, Mother of the new Evangelisation and of Life be the means of the grace needed to begin the return of England, which is her Dowry, to love and faith in Jesus Christ. We pray for the Day …and keep in mind…"When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England". We now look forward to today's programme in Walsingham which begins soon with a Procession of Reparation along the Holy Mile for all sins against life.
Ave Maria! Ave Maria! Ave Maria!