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Virtual pilgrimage proves a big hit for Lent

Scores of people – young and old – from more than a dozen different parishes have signed up to take part in a virtual pilgrimage in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. ‘Let’s Journey to the Cross’ is a joint initiative by the diocese’s Children’s Ministry, SEEDS, and its ministry for young people, Derry and Raphoe Youth.

Would–be pilgrims were asked to sign up for the Lenten initiative so that between them they would ‘complete’ the 3,500 virtual miles from Derry and Raphoe to the Holy Land. The idea has proved so popular, though, that the pilgrims are on course to walk the whole way to Jerusalem and back again. Among those taking part are the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Rev Andrew Forster, and pupils from the RE department of a local secondary school.

The initiative is being coordinated by the Diocesan Children’s Officer for Derry and Raphoe, Kirsty McCartney. The idea for the pilgrimage came to her while she was out walking with her dog, Izzy. “We were walking down a country lane, and I was thinking about Lent and how we could mark it, and I thought how – instead of pressuring people to give something up for Lent – we could ask them to do something instead, and it evolved from that.”

Kirsty invited people to walk in their own communities – and within their own ‘bubbles’ – so that their journeys would comply with Covid guidelines in their respective jurisdictions. “Families and those taking part are using their daily exercise, in their local areas, to make up the miles,” she said. “For some this will be walking, while others may cycle, skip, hop or even scoot. It’s about spending time outdoors and being with God.

“This journey is not only about physically covering the miles,” Kirsty explained. “We’re able to journey together spiritually as we spend some time looking at journeys Jesus took in the Gospels. Our first journey, on Ash Wednesday, looked at the Temptations of Jesus. And each week, the different ideas will be posted on our diocesan website and our Facebook page, and there will be a range of activities to take part in.”

Kirsty says the virtual pilgrimage has proved so popular, they’re on course to walk the whole distance to Jerusalem and back again, and then some. “The response has been brilliant. Participants have already pledged to complete a total of almost than 9,000 miles. This means that by the time we get to Easter Sunday, we will have covered the distance to the cross and back again. And we’re now making our way ‘virtually’ to Iona, as well, which is brilliant because of our diocese’s connection to St Columba.”

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