A group of 120 people from St. Thomas’s Catholic Church, Canterbury was recently led on a pilgrimage to Rome by Fr. Valentine Erhahon. The objective was to enable a group of young people currently preparing for Confirmation and those having been confirmed in the last five years now on the Young Mentors Award Programme for Confirmation to meet our Holy Father Pope Francis to present two gifts to him and also experience living in a seminary so as to encourage vocations to the Priesthood and to the religious life and be inspired by this Holy Year of Mercy. 57 families accompanied their young members on the journey to Rome.
The core of the Pilgrimage was from 5th-7th April and included attending the General Audience with Pope Francis, a private Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and going through the Holy Door of Mercy. In addition, after a Football Match between the Parish Team and the Seminary Team, a formal dinner was organised with exchange of gifts with the seminary Rector, Staff and seminarians of the Pontifical International College Mary Mother of the Church.
In preparation for the Pilgrimage, Fr Valentine created two gifts for the Holy Father, a painting and a drawing book of letters written by the parish children. The painting depicts the Pope watering a garden made up of the signatures of many people including 300 children and young people, individuals from the parish, seminarians, priests, Muslims and non-Catholics. From the signatures grows the Canterbury Parish Family Mercy Tree, producing the 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy shown as fruits of the tree. On the painting, there is a poem that recounts our salvation history and mission. The artist, Mrs. Charlotte Galt, painted the painting for the Holy Father. In addition Mrs. Nieves Castro organised over 70 children and young people to make drawings and letters for the Pope in anticipation of his birthday later this year.
Attending the General Audience on Wednesday, the group was seated in St. Peter’s Square. Clever positioning meant that many people came very close to the Pope during his perambulation in the Pope-Mobile. During his ride, the Holy Father stopped to bless the Icon of St. Thomas of Canterbury. This Icon blessed by Pope Francis is now housed at the Martyrs chapel in St. Thomas’s Church.
Father Valentine, representing the group from Canterbury met the Holy Father for a private audience were he was able to present the painting and the book personally to Pope Francis and told him about what the painting and book was all about.
The Holy Father was greatly interested in the gifts presented to him and spent time reading the poem and observing the painting and drawings. He asked Fr. Valentine to send his warmest thanks to all those who signed the painting and to all the children who made special drawings for him. Later that evening, the Pilgrims challenged the Seminarians to a football match. The Canterbury side captained by Joe Murphy, who scored the team’s only goal, suffered a catastrophic defeat against a polished and coherent seminary side. However there was plenty of amusement in the game and all took it in good part. During the ensuing formal dinner, Joe handed the trophy over to the Captain of the Seminary Team. At the dinner, the Seminary Rector Fr. Oscar Turrión, presented special gifts for the year of mercy to all the young people and memorabilia to all the families on the pilgrimage. The young people preparing to receive confirmation on Pentecost Sunday this year presented the seminary community with an Icon of St. Thomas of Canterbury and the leader of the Young mentors programme, Robert Emejuru lead the speeches to give thanks to the seminary community and to all the pilgrims for their prayers and support.
It was not serious for the whole time. The pilgrimage also contained a measure of fun. The 120 members from Canterbury stayed in guest accommodation at the Seminary and were able to enjoy each other’s company in the spacious grounds, at prayers and at mealtimes. The group rose early for morning prayers at 6am. They were able to enjoy beautiful walks around the grounds. It was a time for families to pray and play with their children and for them to make new friends. The pilgrims also had time to go in little groups to the Opera, visit the Colosseum and many other beautiful sights around Rome.
It was a very happy and joyous occasion for the parish community in Canterbury and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.
Later in July, Canon Anthony Charlton will lead a group of young people from St. Thomas’s Canterbury to the World youth Day in Poland to meet with the Holy Father.
Press Release by Helen NATTRASS