Ecumenical retreat focuses on being a pilgrim today


Catholic and Anglican retreat centres in Auckland have worked together to provide a successful ecumenical day in which the focus was on being pilgrims.

Mercy Spirituality Centre and Vaughan Park prepared the day titled “To be a Pilgrim”, which took place on April 29.

This was a day of history, story, song, prayer — with time for sharing and getting to know each other.

The day started with Beate Matthies, the manager of the Mercy Spirituality Centre, welcoming the participants and setting the scene with a talk on pilgrimages through history, religions and faiths. Fr Chris Skinner, SM, then shared experiences from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He taught the group the lyrics of his composition Holy Land — a song likely to stay in the memories of the participants.

“Together as pilgrims we follow the Way of the Master here with us . . .” was how one line of the song went. The group sang this several times as they journeyed through the day.

Before leaving the Mercy Spirituality Centre in Epsom, the participants were transported back to 13th century England.

Valerie Jabir, the former programmes and resource coordinator at the centre, enacted the likely experience of a woman whose life was spared during an epidemic, and because of this fulfilled a vow to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.

The group then went by bus to Vaughan Park on the North Shore where Anglican Archdeacon John Blundell welcomed them and shared pictures and stories from his own pilgrimage from England to Santiago de Compostela. This pilgrimage was inspired by the book The Cockleshell Pilgrim written by Katherine Lack which describes the pilgrimage of an English dyer in the 15th century. Rev. Blundell and his wife travelled by train and bus and were able to visit many sacred places on the way before they reached the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The rainy but eventful day ended with a reflection in the chapel of Vaughan Park. Fr Skinner’s song was sung again and by then the second part of the song had a special meaning for all: “Together as pilgrims — may peace fall like rain here to water the desert and bring life again — oasis of mercy where his feet stand . . . .”

The rain was pouring down outside but within the group bridges were built and friendships were formed. The participants were from several different Christian denominations and most of them had not met before.

Examples of feedback at the end of the day were: “Thanks so much for organising the super day” and “I enjoyed his [Fr Chris Skinner’s] positive sharing of faith in God through his songs. A real privilege to meet friends and share in the day, Thank you so much.”

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