Address to the Congress

Archbishop, Don Segundo, it is a joy and a privilege to be with you and thank you for so graciously inviting me to be part of this Congress. I bring greetings from His Grace The Archbishop of Canterbury as together we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Archbishop Justin sees pilgrimage as fundamental to the Christian life and the life of our church and firmly believes that this has to be about travelling together.

I am Andrew Nunn, the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral of Southwark, which is the Cathedral for the diocese which covers London south of the Thames. We are a relatively young diocese, founded in 1905 but our Cathedral building was established in the year 606 as a small Saxon convent dedicated to Our Lady.

I don’t have to tell you that what we have in the Camino and the amazing Cathedral and Shrine of Santiago in Compostela is one of the jewels in the Christian tradition. This must be the golden age of the pilgrimage through which we are living, when the desire to walk the Camino, for more reasons than we can imagine, brings thousands of people from every corner of the world and from every tradition of Christian faith and of no faith to set out on the journey. In an age when spirituality as opposed to religion is very important to people, the Camino provides a way into God and the deeper things of life, that means that people can walk for whatever reason they have. A recent survey carried out in Britain found that 77% of adults believe in something beyond themselves and 51% believe in the power of prayer but most do not go to church. These are people who walk with us on the Way.

Walking in faith to a place of pilgrimage is something that is not just the preserve of the Camino. The place where I am Dean – Southwark Cathedral – has never been a pilgrimage destination – we have had no shrine to draw people, no miracles, no vision – instead we have been the place where the pilgrimage began.

After the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket in 1170 and the establishment of his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral, one of the principal places where the pilgrimage began was at Southwark.

Geoffrey Chaucer chronicled the journey in his famous series of poems – ‘The Canterbury Tales’ – which begin like this

It happened that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
To Canterbury, full devout at heart,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.

It was April and the pilgrimages were beginning and Chaucer describes the sundry band of people – some devout, some with lurid pasts, each with a story to tell – who gathered close to our Priory and then walked from Southwark by the River Thames to Canterbury.

Anglicans have a rich history of encouraging and supporting these pilgrimages and the English, like every other national group, have loved to and still love to, pack their bag and set off on pilgrimage. The Reformation and the creation of the Church of England had led to a terrible period of destruction of our own shrines, the burning of images and the abandonment of pilgrimage as a spiritual discipline. But the revival of the catholic understanding of the church in the 19th century brought all these things back in the life of the church including the restoration of shrines and a growing interest in pilgrimage.

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

Stones on a Camino pathway marker

So last year, 60 of us from Southwark Cathedral travelled the Camino. The vast majority were unable to walk the distance and so I brought them on coach and we walked a little each day. The rest of the group walked the English route. For each of us it was life changing.

One of the things that was so wonderful, was the hospitality and welcome we received on the way. One of the challenges that Anglican pilgrims have – wherever we are on pilgrimage – is that there are not many places where we can celebrate the Mass. That is as important a feature of the life of Anglicans as it is of other Catholic Christians. And on pilgrimage of course it is part of the daily feeding that we need.

I enjoyed some wonderful hospitality in churches along the way. To be honest there were times when an altar was not available and we had to do what we get used to doing on pilgrimage and that is celebrating the Mass in the hotel where we are staying. But that was less the case on the Camino.

And of course there are other forms of hospitality. When you are travelling the Camino, in whatever way, it is a truly ecumenical experience; no one is really interested to which church you belong – they are much more interested in you as a person and a beloved child of God. I had some wonderfully significant conversations on the way with people from vastly different countries and differing Christian communities. What mattered was that we were on the way, on the Camino.

So it felt to us as though this was a truly ecumenical endeavour, this walking and that then poses questions for us all about how we can deepen the every closer relationship that exists between Catholics and Anglicans and those of other Christian denominations. On the ground in our parishes we are already working together for the common good. How can the Camino encourage the ecumenical spirit that exists on the road and in the hostels when people arrive in a church or in the Cathedral?

We were privileged when we arrived here. I was invited on behalf of the English speakers present at the Pilgrim Mass to give the invocation to the Apostle and to present a gift of incense made in an Anglican Benedictine Monastery. We felt as though we shared well in the Mass. In addition, we were given the use of a side chapel for our own Mass. It was a wonderful model of what can be done and for the pilgrims from Southwark and other Anglicans and Methodists and Baptists amongst others there it meant a huge amount.

We have to recognise the discipline of our churches – but within that what can we do to bring the ecumenical spirit so apparent on the road into the church? It calls for imagination and generosity on all sides; it calls for a clearly stated commitment by all parties both to observe the rules but also to see what is possible.

Pilgrims do not ask for much, nor do Anglicans, but what can we give to one another, as children of the Way?