THEY didn’t all make it. The BBC’s highest-profile religious series (now a mere three episodes) for Holy Week/Easter was another outing of Pilgrimage: The road through Portugal (BBC2) (Feature, 31 March). This year, the seven “celebrities” followed what was continuously described as the modern Roman Catholic — not, apparently, Christian — pilgrim route to Fatima, in Portugal, the shrine commemorating the place at which three shepherd children are reported to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1917.
As now customary, the celebrities either came from a spectrum of faiths, practising or not, or were spiritually curious but without faith. We saw the moving process of the group growing together, of learning from each other, of gaining understanding and tolerance, and experiencing, often for the first time, what deep faith can mean for others if not for themselves. But the bombshell was lobbed by Shane Lynch, a former member of the band Boyzone, and now a fervent born-again Pentecostal, who had seemed in many ways among the strongest of the group: helpful, approachable, open.
On the final morning, as the group were preparing for the climactic moment of the candlelit procession at the shrine, Mr Lynch told them by voicemail that he had left, having already, in his estimation, derived everything possible from the experience. It underlined a significant weakness in the format.
The fixers, support staff, and advisers who must underpin these walks are never shown, maintaining the illusion that, somehow, the pilgrims make their own way unaided. This 11th-hour exit, without the courage to tell them face to face that he was leaving, must have devastated the group. Surely they were overwhelmed by abandonment, bereavement, anger; and, no doubt, the support team did all they could to help — but we never saw it. This could have been a moment of deep reflection on how religions understand and deal with loss, and where God might be at such times: it was a great opportunity missed.
The pilgrims met an enclosed Carmelite Sister who had actually known one of the shepherd children in her old age. Why, they asked, must they converse through an iron grill? The bars, the nun assured them, did not imprison her — they brought her freedom.
A similarly counter-intuitive point was made by Shoshi and Saul, the stars of The Highs and Lows of a Kosher Marriage: Love, faith and me (BBC1, Wednesday of last week). It focused on the monthly 12 days of strict separation they follow, as dictated by Shoshi’s menstrual cycle. Not only refraining from sex, they must not touch, nor even simultaneously touch, the same object. And yet they insisted that such draconian rigour only strengthened their mutual love and attraction.
The Windsor Castle Fire: The untold story (Channel 4, Saturday), focusing powerfully on the testimonies of the firefighters, reminded us that the conflagration started in the private chapel, in a bitter parody of the Holy Spirit’s overflowing Pentecostal flames.