Oxford Chaplaincy students join pilgrimage to Chartres

Heading up to the Cathedral for Mass

Since the 1930s and most significantly in the post Second World War years, students from the Universities and the Grandes Ecoles of Paris and its surrounding area have gone on pilgrimage to the magnificent 12th century Cathedral of Chartres. At its height in the 1990s over 5,000 students and young people were taking part.

This year 6 students from the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, together with their Jesuit Chaplain, Fr Matthew Power SJ, and Assistant Chaplain, Becky Short, joined 700 or so French students for the 2018 pilgrimage during the weekend of the 6th-8th April.

Welcomed to Paris by Louis Marie Neviaski, a law student at Paris II/Assas University currently spending one of his undergraduate years at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, the group enjoyed the first two days of their trip, started on the 4th April, seeing the sights and getting to know some of the students at the Catholic Chaplaincy of Paris II/Assas and at the Jesuit-run chaplaincy at Science-Po.

The pilgrimage itself began with a night walk, from 9pm to midnight, on the Friday night, followed by a day’s walk into Chartres on the Saturday. That night there was a candlelit procession up to the Cathedral for a time of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

On Sunday, the pilgrimage culminated in a magnificent Mass in the Cathedral presided over by the Archbishop of Paris. The fact that hundreds of pilgrims, including the Oxford group, had to run from the Cathedral precinct to catch the train back to Paris did nothing to diminish the sense of uplift that the celebration in the Cathedral and the pilgrimage more generally had instilled.

Such events don’t take place in a vacuum. In the post Second World War years the organisers had encouraged participation from German Students as a means of fostering reconciliation.

In 2018 there was no hiding from some of the realities that challenge our present times: armed soldiers stood beneath lampposts and at junctions in the streets of Chartres as the pilgrims processed up to the Cathedral on Saturday night; the night walk on the Friday, a long part of which was undertaken in silence, gave rise to thoughts of the long lines of refugees who have made their way to Europe in recent years; and then inevitably there was talk of Brexit, and the industrial action currently taking place in France.

But in the midst of all this, the sense of hopefulness and joy in the young Catholic pilgrims was clear to see. Clear too was the overwhelming welcome that the Oxford group received. The hospitality had been tremendous and thanks in particular go to the students of Paris II/Assas and to the priests at St Germain de Pres who had offered the group accommodation in the heart of Paris.

Oxford group with the students at the Assas/Paris II Chaplaincy