THE Archbishop of Canterbury has compared the selflessness of the Virgin Mary to Pope Francis “kneeling before war lords and a President” to beg the leaders of South Sudan to make peace (News, 12 April).
“That was so powerful,” Archbishop Welby said, “because the Holy Father, like Mary, demonstrated the Kingdom of Heaven in all its upside-down rightness and righteousness.”
The Archbishop was preaching at this year’s National Pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, on Bank Holiday Monday.
Pilgrims gathered in the grounds of Walsingham Abbey for the pilgrimage, which began with an all-night prayer vigil on Sunday night. The Archbishop was delivering his sermon after a lunchtime eucharist in the Shrine Church.
The Virgin Mary, he told pilgrims, was “God’s place-maker. She makes a place in her body for the incarnation. She makes place in her life for the moment of conception, of birth, of persecution, of protecting the God who needs feeding and changing, nurturing, and teaching. She makes place for him at Nazareth and in the Temple. She makes a place in mind and heart to consider what all this means.
“And then she makes place for his ministry. Always present, from conception to crucifixion, she is yet never prominent, never seeking her own self-interest. The mother of the Lord is not seen as demanding status.
“How different to the too frequent history of the Church demanding rights. To each of us, especially those of us who hold authority and office in the Church, who find it so easy to be affronted, so easy to feel we must stand on our dignity.
“And yet how similar she is. . . Pope Francis, a few weeks back at the Vatican, kneeling before war lords and a President, begging the warring rulers of South Sudan to make peace. Kissing their feet.”
In a recent visit to the Vatican, the Archbishop said, he had been invited to a drink with one of the residents. “We walked through the most beautiful corridors painted by Raphael. . . We eventually passed through a museum area with some armour.
“It was splendid, beautiful, but superfluous, to be preserved but no longer of use. In our ignorance, in our forgetfulness in the Church, we turn the generosity of God the Spirit into the benevolence of a donation to a museum. . .
“The gifts of the Spirit are so often treated like that armour. . . How different from the ministry of Mary. She welcomed the gift of being the Theotokos, the God-bearer, but did not consider in any way that to be something for herself. She existed for others, for you and me, as she still prays for us.”
All Christians were called to obedience through the obedience of Mary, he concluded. “We never exist for ourselves but only for others, like Mary, making space for the visibility of the Kingdom.”
The noon eucharist was celebrated by a former Priest Administrator of the Shrine, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North. Ministries of healing were offered in the Shrine Church afterwards, while the West Yorkshire Police Band played in the grounds.
Pilgrims then processed through the streets of the village before Benediction was given by the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Anthony Robinson, an Hon. Guardian of the College of Guardians of the Shrine. A service of solemn vespers was held in the Shrine Church on Monday evening.
Bishop North said on Wednesday: “The whole village was filled with the sounds of singing and prayer. The presence of the Archbishop gave us a huge lift, and his sermon on the spiritual power of pilgrimage was a highlight of the day.
“It was good to have a large number of children present and contributing to the worship as readers and servers, and the West Yorkshire Police Band lent some oomph to the day. Following on so soon from the festival at Westminster Abbey, attended by 2000 pilgrims, the National was another part of a vintage year at Walsingham.”