Two of us East Anglians joined a Wonersh seminarian, 5 priests and many young men discerning their vocation on a pilgrimage to southern France this past week. The pilgrimage, nicknamed the ‘O Antiphon’ pilgrimage, was a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for Christmas, away from the busy corporate activity of the UK, meditating upon the life of the Curé of Ars, at whose shrine we were based for our 4 day visit.
Ars is a tiny village about an hour away from Lyon in the Rhone valley. There is a single main street, a small collection of houses and a few shops, surrounding a church. Thus St Jean-Marie Vianney found his parish in the mid-nineteenth century.
His first day as pastor was a cold, misty one, and the Curé was unable to find it. He came across a young shepherd, and asked him the way. He was told by the boy, after which the saint exclaimed: ‘you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.’
The site of this encounter is just on top of a windy hill, half a mile out of the village, and is commemorated by a famous statue of the scene.
Since then, Ars has become a centre of pilgrimage for those on their sojourn towards heaven, hoping the saint would show them in the right direction. During his lifetime, thousands came for confession and spiritual direction (including Birmingham’s Bishop Ullathorn), and until today, thousands more have walked in the same footsteps, seeking the will of God in their lives, to discover their vocation.
Now we are all home, from pilgrimages and our Oscott term, all the East Anglia Seminarians would like to wish you all a very blessed and peaceful Christmas, and a happy new year.