Our Lady of Walsingham in procession amidst the Christmas shoppers in London

St Patrick’s Soho Square Parish along with the Community Emmanuel organised an impressive evangelistic Mission for London from 7th to 10th December 2017. Part of this involved a Procession of Our Lady of Walsingham starting at Tyburn Convent at Marble Arch and finishing at St Patrick’s Soho Square.

In Tyburn Convent all was silent in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord. We were enfolded in the silence of love and mercy Himself - the Hidden Jesus.

Suddenly as if from nowhere, but most definitely from Walsingham – Our Lady of Walsingham is ushered in by Fr Alexander Sherbrook and placed in honour on a table specially prepared by the sisters with candles and flowers. The very same processional statue carried by tens of thousands of Pilgrims along the Holy mile each year to Our Lady of Walsingham’s Shrine at the Slipper Chapel.

Time with both Jesus and Mary as various Tyburn Sisters came on brief visitation.

Then all of a scurry as young Missioners placed Our Blessed Lady in her processional Bier and suddenly at 5.30pm we were all outside on a freezing, wintry night to brave Oxford Street with our Blessed Mother amidst the frenzied Christmas shoppers. Around 150 brave souls banded together for this great processional expedition.

Our first stop was the Tyburn Tree – place of execution for more than 600 years and where many of our Catholic Martyrs were put to death. Fr Alexander led us in silent kneeling and remembrance and the first Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.

Then once on our feet we had the crowds and the traffic to contend with, as we navigated across treacherous roads and a packed Oxford Street. We sang or prayed silently and the people around us looked at us in total shock and awe as their brains adjusted to something completely unexpected and something completely other, amidst their shopping frenzy, which caused many to be thrown into momentary confusion. It was a sight to behold!

A few took photos; even fewer made the sign of the Cross, and venerated Our Blessed Lady. One or two were visibly angry and distressed by what they saw. Others considered us a nuisance, as they had to walk around us at times when we knelt to pray the other Sorrowful Mysteries at strategic points along the way. Most showed complete indifference and confusion of thought by the expressions on their faces.

As we passed Selfridges numerous people were taking photos of the Christmas windows from which enormous Santas and much more gazed out and were completely oblivious to Our Lady’s presence as we passed by.

The Young Mission team had various encounters with people along the way with an invitation to speak of the Lord and the significance of the Procession with Our Lady of Walsingham as we prepare for the Lord’s coming. Miraculous medals where also offered.

In the main this was a Procession of great witness – an offering of an alternative to the frenzied preparations for a Christmas Feast, the meaning of which few have any knowledge! This was a witness of Faith, with an invitation to look further than the tinsel and plastic Santas.

The scripture which came to my mind was Lk 18:8 ... “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

My experience of Oxford Street only emphasised the spiritual demise of England and other Western Nations and the great abandonment of our Christian heritage. How we are in need of a spiritual, interior renewal through prayer and by living Christian values.

The call of Advent is to “Prepare a Way for the Lord”. The prophet Isaiah proclaims: Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord; make a straight highway for our God across the desert. And in the Gospel we meet the voice crying in the wilderness as John the Baptist prepares the way for the arrival of Jesus.

My parish priest Fr Paul McDermott in Hemel Hempstead spoke powerfully in his sermon of the 2nd Sunday of Advent. It was as if he was present with us last Friday.

“The relevance of the readings today is particularly strong because although John preached the gospel in the desert of Judea, you and I are called to preach the same good news in the desert of modern Britain, in the wilderness of our modern society where God is missing but he isn’t missed. And that sense that we are living in a desert place strikes home especially in this season of getting ready for Christmas.

You only have to go to the Marlowes, Watford, St Albans or the West End, to see thousands of people, but very few with a smile on their face. Hundreds of shoppers whose tired bodies and aching feet proclaim the news that Christmas is in fact a chore and the sooner it’s over the better. And in these times of uncertainty, it seems more than ever that we do live in a desert, a dry and lonely place, where the good news story of Christmas cannot be heard, because of the bad news we’ve become used to.

But the call remains the same; in the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord. In the desert proclaim that the Lord is near and he is waiting for you. In the run up to this Christmas we must announce the presence of Christ already among us in our hearts in our community and in our homes; we must help others to turn back to him and find his consolation in such a hardened world.”

In Oxford Street this is exactly what we were all trying to be, a light for Christ among peoples deadened to the Christian Faith and seemingly lost into the oblivion of secularism.

Our arrival into St Patrick’s, to a darkened Church ablaze with candles, beauty and mystery was a moment of great joy. Our Lady of Walsingham was enthroned above the Tabernacle and either side of the Tabernacle were St John Fisher, St Thomas More, St Louise de Marriac and St Margaret Clitherow. Holy Mass soon followed and a beautiful and moving Eucharistic Healing Service.

What a beautiful way to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Well done St Patrick’s for this Mission for London!

Visit Catholic Church England and Wales's Flickr album to see amazing photos from this procession.

Reflection by Antonia Moffat – antonia@walsingham.org.uk