Walsingham’s new ecumenical covenant

Published on: 1 January 2019

On the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham last September, the Priest Administrator of the Anglican Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, Fr Kevin Smith, and the Rector of the Roman Catholic National Shrine, Mgr John Armitage, signed an Ecumenical Covenant during Sung Vespers in the Anglican Shrine Church. Fr Kevin tells us more.

The pain and scandal of disunity within the Church of Jesus Christ is not something that can be easily ignored at Walsingham. The fact that there are two Shrines in one place means that prayer for the unity of the Church is much more than a platitude. It has a particular and immediate focus. In the words of a much loved recently departed priest who for a time lived in Walsingham and devoted his life to praying for unity, “we speak with a divided voice; we get used to it, and of course, we shouldn’t; but how can we change this? There is one thing we can and must do … and that is to pray together” (Mgr Augustine Hoey).

The desire for unity was at the heart of Jesus’ own prayer on the night before he died and so it is at Walsingham. A sign of this is that, despite the many difficulties and obstacles that exist on the path of unity, there have been such positive and fruitful developments over the years in the relationship between the Anglican and Catholic Shrines. In many ways, this is something of a miracle, but we should not be surprised by the miraculous, or be lacking in faith that God will always open up new opportunities and possibilities.

In her home in Walsingham, England’s Nazareth, Mary points us to the treasures of the Gospel. She calls us to penitence, reconciliation and healing in its many forms. Mary guides us towards the ways of peace and in seeking a right relationship with God. These treasures, these gifts are offered, not only to the Church but the world as well.

As a centre of pilgrimage and of prayer, Walsingham is entrusted with an important work of witness to the nation, especially at a time when the reality of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are increasingly ignored and rejected. That work can only be strengthened by the two Shrines striving in whatever ways possible to walk and pray together in the service of the Gospel and for the building up of the Church.

The new Ecumenical Covenant outlines the principles upon which any future work and cooperation should be built. Above all, it reminds the Shrines and all who come to Walsingham as pilgrims, visitors or tourists what Walsingham is about: the joy which comes to the world through the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary.

It is therefore with one voice that both Shrines declare that “we wish to share in that joy, which is the foundation of our faith, by our common witness and worship in Walsingham, as together with Mary we praise and magnify God’s holy name”.

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