Carrying a symbol of hope - Student Cross 2018
“Carrying a wooden cross through Holy Week was a symbolic but very tangible way of remembering Jesus in his passion: eight foot of oak is surprisingly heavy!” writes Luke Taylor, British Jesuit novice who took part in the 2018 Student Cross pilgrimage.
The Christian initiative is organised by and for students, young adults, and pilgrims of all ages. Started in 1948, the pilgrimage allows participants to experience Holy Week and Easter Sunday as a living reality.
Eleven Legs - as the groups are known - walk from different parts of the country across Norfolk to Walsingham, a major centre of pilgrimages for centuries, where they meet to celebrate the Resurrection.
Together with Fr Brían MacCuarta SJ and Fr Simon Bishop SJ, Luke joined the Leg starting from Oxford. He shares his experience:
“In all the Maundy Thursday liturgies I’ve attended, parishioners have presented very clean feet to be washed. But midway through the pilgrimage to Walsingham, my feet were dirty and sweaty. The cool water which splashed over them was an authentic relief for my aching toes.
Our group – students, young and older people, with two Jesuit priests, and a Jesuit novice – took turns in shouldering the weight of the Cross: two on the arms, and one at the foot. We covered about twenty miles a day, 120 in total, with occasional stretches in our accompanying “team car.”
Along the way, we recounted our life journeys. Not all of us were Christian, and we came from many different churches – Catholic and Anglican, Methodist, Brethren, and Pentecostal. I treasured these opportunities to share faith and doubt, comfort and pain, with people I would not have otherwise met. Many of our group had walked the route for many years already and formed lifelong friendships.
Threading through Oxford city centre on the first day, I felt self-conscious – not so much a “fool for Christ” as a “religious nutter.” That feeling was important. It reminded me of the shame, the stigma, of the cross. Clearly, our group was not off to a real crucifixion. But I caught a tiny whiff of the reactions that Jesus must have felt as the ostracized object of fascination and horror.
Nearly always, however, people smiled. Day after day we received encouraging waves and toots. Strangers stopped to wish us well. In the urban landscape of contemporary Britain overt religious symbols are rare, but for many the cross remains a potent symbol of hope. I’m not sure that all onlookers would use the same words, but their looks showed that it was “good news,” the trophy of cruelty and death overcome.
Kind parishioners pressed hospitality upon us every couple of hours. We drank more tea and coffee, ate more sandwiches and cake, and enjoyed the ecumenical shelter of more Anglican and Catholic church porches than I can remember. Mostly we slept in church halls, but on one night enjoyed the generous welcome of a supper, bed – and much-needed shower.
We arrived into Walsingham on the afternoon of Good Friday, walking the last few hundred metres with bare feet. Did Mary appear here centuries ago? I am agnostic regarding the vision, but I stopped to pray. The other ten legs of Student Cross joined us, and we trudged the final muddy mile together, three hundred voices singing hymns. The very English rain did not dampen the paschal joy.”