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Pope Francis has invited all Christians to make a pilgrimage to mark the Year of Mercy. CAFOD, as part of their campaign activities for the Year of Mercy, encourages people to take part in a pilgrimage focussing on the refugee crisis, and has produced a variety of material for those wanting to organise a pilgrimage.

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Libby and Martin with a Lampedusa Cross

  An important symbol of the refugee used by CAFOD is the Lampedusa Cross.  A Sicilian carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, has been making rough crosses from the wreckage of a boat carrying refugees that sank off the island of Lampedusa.  Some of these refugees were rescued, but many drowned.  Francesco offered his crosses to survivors as a symbol of their rescue and a sign of hope for a new life in their new countries.  He has also given one to Pope Francis, and there is one in the British Museum.  They are a widely recognised symbol of the 2015-16 European Refugee Crisis.

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Libby and Martin set off from Iona

  I planned a cycling pilgrimage from Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, to Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria.  Irish monks founded a monastery on Iona in AD 563, and it was from there that St Aidan set out in AD 635 to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne to spread Irish Christianity to Northumbria and, from there, to other parts of northern England.  My preference for long pilgrim journeys is by bicycle rather than walking, and I planned about six days for the journey.  CAFOD supplied me with two Lampedusa Crosses, one to be left in the House of Prayer on Iona, and one to travel with me to be left at St Aidan’s Church on Lindisfarne, on arrival at the end of the pilgrim journey.  Sr Jean Lawson of Cnoc a Chalmain (House of Prayer) on Iona and Sr Tessa of St Aidan’s Church on Lindisfarne were contacted, and both were happy to accept the Lampedusa crosses.

  The link between pilgrimage and the long, arduous journeys of the refugees fleeing from war, persecution and poverty is clear, but the physical and psychological discomforts are of a very different scale.  Although the pilgrimage is self-chosen rather than a necessity for survival, of a much shorter duration and carried out in far less arduous conditions, it may lead to empathy with the physical hardships endured by refugees, and better understanding of the pain and uncertainties faced on the journey.  The pilgrimage journey offers time for reflection, prayer, and careful consideration of what is an appropriate Christian response to the plight of refugees coming to Europe.  As Pope Francis wrote: “We ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees are brothers and sisters to be welcomed respected and loved.”

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Martin hands over the Lampedusa Cross to Anna at the House of Prayer, Iona

  The pilgrimage started on Iona where we were welcomed to Sunday Mass at the House of Prayer.  At the end of Mass we were asked to say a few words about the Lampedusa Cross and our intended pilgrim journey from Iona to Lindisfarne, before formally handing over the first cross for display in the church.  Information cards explaining the significance of the cross in this Year of Mercy, together with the CAFOD cards of hope, were left on display close to the cross.  The cards will be available for visitors to the House of Prayer to complete.

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Martin hands over the Lampedusa Cross to Sr Tessa at St Aidan’s Church, Lindisfarne

  The route taken from Iona was across Mull, ferry to Oban and the coastal route south to Arran.  A steep ride across Arran to the ferry for Ardrossan.  From Ardrossan the route followed the Irvine valley to Kilmarnock, before going over the hills to Lanark.  The Clyde valley was then followed before crossing to the Tweed valley, following the Tweed to Coldstream before heading to the coast and riding over the causeway to Lindisfarne.  We were met by Sr Tessa in St Aidan’s Church where we handed over the second Lampedusa cross.  The cross will be displayed in the church and used by Sr Tessa as part of the services she provides for pilgrim groups visiting Lindisfarne.  It will also be the focus for the CAFOD pilgrimage to Lindisfarne later in the year.

  What did the cycling pilgrimage of 380 miles achieve?  Firstly, it provided time for thought, reflection and prayer on the Christian response to the refugees seeking asylum in Europe.  Secondly, it has left a legacy in the churches on Iona and Lindisfarne in the form of the Lampedusa crosses, providing a stimulus for many other pilgrims visiting these holy places to reflect on the words of Pope Francis, that the refugee crisis is an opportunity for us to put some basic Christian principles into practice.  Finally, it made us appreciative of the efforts of those early Celtic monks in bringing Christianity to Northern Britain, and their legacy that continues to influence us today.

Martin Desforges